Columbia — Will Ebner stands near the giant white tent, the water dripping off his 6-foot, 230 pound frame.
By TEREZ A. PAYLOR
The Kansas City Star
This is Friday, just minutes after Missouri's second preseason football practice has come to an end, and Ebner - like the rest of his teammates, many of whom are still lounging in the giant tubs of ice water he just emerged from located a few feet away - is tired after a tough conditioning drill.
But Ebner does not mind the feeling, not even a little bit. To the hard-hitting linebacker, who enters the fall entrenched as Missouri's starter in the middle, the familiar feeling of a tough practice in August not only feels like football, but also something else, something just as exciting and potentially far more rewarding.
“A clean slate,” said Ebner, a redshirt senior.
No kidding. That, apparently, is what two consecutive injury-plagued seasons can do to a player. It wasn't that long ago that Ebner was considered an up-and-comer at Missouri, an honorable mention All-Big 12 linebacker who followed up a strong freshman campaign (during which he earned a reputation as a hard-hitter) by racking up 78 tackles, 12 for loss, and four sacks in 12 games as a sophomore in 2009.
Ebner battled through injuries that year - he had a labrum tear repaired in his shoulder before the season and missed some time with a knee injury he suffered during the season - but things only got worse in 2010, when he finished with 47 tackles despite missing two games with a neck strain and playing through a foot injury that bothered him all season. Things got worse for him in 2011, which he ended up missing due to a concussion.
So you understand why this past offseason, Ebner - who says this is the best he's felt physically in a year - worked hard with strength coach Pat Ivey to build up his body in hopes of preventing any more future problems.
“When you get hurt, some of your muscles compensate for other muscles and you get weaknesses in your body,” Ebner said. “So we worked hard - especially last spring and in winter conditioning - on trying to pinpoint those spots on my body and specifically working on those.”
Without going into too much detail, Ivey said he and Ebner made some changes to the way he worked out, in hopes of making sure Brownswood, Tex., native can perform and stay healthy for the first time in three years.
“He's adapted well,” Ivey said. “And Will is so smart he's able to help us train him.”
For instance, Ivey said, Ebner gave him feedback on the exercises he performed, and they worked together to put together the best training plan for him.
“We've been able to say hey what do you think can make you become a better linebacker?” Ivey said. “Do you think a set of squats or lunges would be better for you?”
Ivey says he trusted Ebner - one of four team captains this year, along with linebacker Zaviar Gooden, receiver T.J. Moe and offensive tackle Elvis Fisher - to give him honest feedback on the exercises he felt made him stronger, which Ebner surely appreciated.
“I wouldn't necessarily do the same workouts the team would be doing, though I would be in there the same time and going through everything with them,” Ebner said.
These days, Ebner is confident in his body. He feels fitter and stronger now, and while he said there isn't a particular moment in camp he's looking forward to, you can bet his enthusiasm about the potential for full, injury-free season isn't going away anytime soon.
“It's like I showed up my freshman year almost,” Ebner said.
Day 9 observations
Thanks to injuries, MU has once again shaken up its offensive line, as Anthony Gatti (left tackle), Evan Boehm (left guard), Mitch Morse (center), Max Copeland (right guard) and Jack Meiners (who moved to right tackle from right guard) got most of the work with the ones today...I hate giving play-by-play from practice (in the grand scheme of things, individual plays don't mean a whole lot) but today marked the third straight day star recruit Dorial Green-Beckham made a scintillating catch. This one came over the middle, as he made a diving catch with a defender draped all over him. His teammates let out a collective "ooh" when he came down with it...speaking of freshmen, linebacker Michael Scherer and safety Ka'Ra Stewart came down with interceptions on back-to-back plays in team drills. Stewart swiped a pass lofted over the middle by freshman walk-on Brock Bondurant, while Scherer - who is working at middle linebacker - dropped into coverage and leaped high to pick off another pass over the middle...a quick correction to an observation I made yesterday: Randy Ponder and Xavier Smith appear to be the top backups at corner. Ian Simon is a safety who is getting some work in the nickel scheme, but Ponder and Smith are working out wide with starters E.J. Gaines and Kip Edwards a little banged up.
A quick rundown of Missouri's injury situation...
*Senior left guard Travis Ruth had surgery Thursday on his triceps tendon. Missouri coach Gary Pinkel saw him in the hospital after the surgery and said he is doing well. Pinkel said Ruth, a projected starter, is expected to miss the season due to the injury.
*Pinkel also said standout freshman tight end Sean Culkin is going to have surgery today.
"We're going to put a pin on his ring finger," Pinkel said. "Hopefully we'll get him back in three or four weeks."
*Senior left tackle Elvis Fisher continued to sit out drills with a sprained ankle. He told me he's "optimistic" he will get a chance to play in Saturday's scrimmage.
*Sophomore defensive tackle Matt Hoch has been wearing a red jersey for the past few practices due to a hamstring injury. It is not believed to be serious. I also spotted Hoch wearing what appears to be a different set of shoulder pads, complete with a mini neckroll. Can you spot it?
Here's three quick things I'll be looking at closely entering Missouri's first big scrimmage of the fall tomorrow at Memorial Stadium.
1. The kicking game
Trey Barrow is listed as the starter at placekicker on Missouri's recent depth chart, but backup Andrew Baggett is making a bid to take the starting job. Baggett actually usurped the starting job from Barrow in the spring, so it will be interesting to see which kicker rises to the occasion tomorrow.
After a quiet start to camp, star recruit Dorial Green-Beckham has been coming on strong since pads have come on. As I noted earlier, he's made highlight-reel catches in each of the last three practices. Let's see if he can keep it going in an even more competitive environment tomorrow.
3. The big uglies
Missouri's injury issues on the offensive line are no secret, but I'm interested in seeing how guards Evan Boehm and Max Copeland - who will almost certainly get some first-team work - fare in the trenches. Pinkel seems confident in both players, but one has a chance to separate himself over the other tomorrow.