Columbia — Missouri held its first scrimmage of the fall Saturday morning, and if you are a Tigers fan, there was plenty to be encouraged about in the defense's 16-12 victory at Memorial Stadium.
By TEREZ A. PAYLOR
The Kansas City Star
Start with the performance of quarterback James Franklin, who turned in a super-efficient effort by completing 18 of 22 passes for 228 yards. Franklin was red-hot from the get go, completing his first nine passes of the day, which isn’t bad for a player who tore the labrum in his throwing shoulder during spring practice and wasn't even allowed to throw a real football until a few months ago.
“I thought he did pretty good at making decisions,” said Missouri coach Gary Pinkel.
Franklin found comfort in the short pass Saturday, often dumping the ball in the flat to running back Kendial Lawrence – who had six catches for 50 yards and also rushed 11 times for 37 yards and a touchdown – and simply letting the speedy senior do the rest of the work.
“He always gives me a hard time, (saying) ‘James I’m going to be open on this one, hit me on this one’ anytime (we call) that little swing or bubble,” Franklin said. "So today, I really took advantage of it.”
Franklin spread the ball around, but said he decided to throw so many short passes, at least in part, because of a conversation he had with third-string freshman quarterback Maty Mauk on Friday.
“He was like ‘James, I don’t want to throw any interceptions tomorrow, I don’t want to take any sacks, I just want to take the little stuff and go,’" Franklin said. 'And I was like ‘Maty, that’s it – why didn’t I think about that?' It’s a scrimmage and you have to move the ball to get points, so that’s what I did a lot of today.”
Franklin said afterward he that could only recall one throw all afternoon - an incomplete duck intended for Gahn McGaffie - where the ball didn't feel good coming out of his hand.
"That one, it hurt a little bit because of my angle and (the fact) I tried to throw it hard and I kind of felt it," Franklin said, reaching back with his right arm. "I think I released it back here, and it shot up like a rocket. But other than that, my shoulder felt great. I don’t feel (any discomfort) right now."
Big day for the defensive line
While Franklin and Lawrence shined today, don’t forget that the defense won the scrimmage, and the effort absolutely started up front. Defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson had three tackles for loss, while ends Michael Sam, Shane Ray, Brad Madison and tackles Jimmy Burge and Harold Brantley each had one apiece.
Richardson, who has dropped some weight this offseason, says he hasn’t felt this light and agile since high school.
“I missed two TFL's so I’m mad at that, but other than that, I’m great – back to high school form a little bit,” said Richardson, who is currently listed at 295 pounds on Missouri’s official roster. “I was in the best shape of my life - as far as quickness and agility - back then, and I was a little heavy when I came (to Missouri) my first year, so I’ve dropped down back to where I normally play at.”
Richardson also lined up at defensive end some Saturday, which he did last year. But he says coaches are also experimenting with him at different spots of the field, even letting him rush the passer without his hand on the ground.
“What you didn’t see was that I was standing up sometimes,” he said. “I like playing on two feet, being an athlete, and (the coaches) know that. It’s something they are working on right now, and they want to see if I can maintain it. I think I’m doing pretty good at it right now.”
But for all his moving around Saturday, Richardson did not pick up a sack. Sam, however, had two, while end Kony Ealy – who was rotating in with the first team on defense – and tackle Evan Winston each had one apiece. Ray and Brayden Burnett each had a quarterback hurry.
Ealy, who also had two passes defended, said it’s a blast playing with such a talented group.
“You never know who is going to make the play,” Ealy said. “It’s a competition. We make more plays, we have more fun.”
The hits keep coming
The upperclassmen showed the true freshmen no mercy on this day. Junior cornerback E.J. Gaines popped freshman receiver Dorial Green-Beckham so hard that it drew a loud moan from everyone in the stadium.
“You didn’t see (that happen) a lot (to him) in high school,” said offensive coordinator David Yost, referring to Green-Beckham. “But it’s good, and guess what – your teammates build a lot of respect for you (when that happens).
“He’s done a great job with how he’s handled things,” Yost continued. “His teammates know he plays hard and is competing. He’s working his way up the depth chart – it doesn’t just happen because of what your name is or what your initials are.”
Green-Beckham finished the day with four catches for 20 yards, but Yost seemed to be most pleased that DGB responded by catching another in the scrimmage after he'd been hit so hard.
“You go out and get hit like that and you pop up and make some more plays, that’s how you earn the respect from that locker room and (become) part of a team,” Yost said.
DGB wasn't the only freshman to experience some growing pains Saturday. Sophomore safety Daniel Easterly got in a big hit of his own, drilling freshman Levi Copelin with a head-on shot that eventually made one of his teammates exclaim "This ain't high school!"
“There were some great hits out there and that was good, but the good news is those guys that got hit just popped up," said Pinkel, who enjoyed the physical play. "I look for that. They weren’t lying around on the ground, they popped up and I think at least one of them had a ball in their hand when they did it. You like that physical play and it’s good nobody got hurt.”
Copelin also took a hard hit from redshirt freshman cornerback Ernest Payton, who met the freshman from Oklahoma right as he was catching a quick pass and forced him to drop it.
But Copelin – who Pinkel had previously singled out as one of the most impressive freshmen on the team – did finish the day with a team-high seven receptions for 37 yards. He also hauled in a long touchdown from Mauk that ultimately didn’t count because Mauk had technically already been sacked.
Golden finally qualifies
Junior college linebacker Markus Golden, a transfer from St. Louis, has finally been allowed to join the team by the NCAA Clearinghouse. He was in attendance Saturday, though he won't be able to participate in full contact drills until he gets his mandatory number of pad-less practices out of the way.
Pinkel said Golden, who will not redshirt this season, will get an early look at special teams, though he added that whether Golden plays or not will ultimately be determined by the way he practices.
“He’s got three (years) to play three," Pinkel said. "He’s not in the redshirt mode. He’s missed a lot of (practices), we’ve just got to get him going. The first thing we’ll probably do is try to get him in on special teams. It’s nice because he’s worked very hard to get eligible. Now he’s here to graduate and be a great player and help us win some games.”
Several players who have been banged up of late played today, including left tackle Elvis Fisher, cornerback E.J. Gaines and defensive end Brad Madison. All three are projected starters.
Pinkel also expects right tackle Justin Britt -- who didn't participate in today's scrimmage and has missed all of camp because of a foot injury -- to return before the end of next week. Jack Meiners, a projected starter at right guard, took his place with the first-teamers today, and was joined by Fisher, freshman Evan Boehm (left guard), Mitch Morse (center) and Max Copeland (right guard) for most of the day. Sophomore Anthony Gatti worked at first-team left tackle when Fisher needed a break.
“Evan Boehm, for a young player, he’s out there starting and he looks the part. He did a lot of good things, along with some other guys," Pinkel said. "We’ll get Justin Britt back next week, we think at the end of next week, and that will help us a little bit. Elvis (Fisher) got a full day out there."
In addition to Britt, these players did not participate: offensive tackle Taylor Chappell, cornerback Kip Edwards, offensive tackle Chris Freeman, running back Russell Hansbrough, running back Henry Josey, receiver T.J. Moe, defensive tackle Lucas Vincent, tight end Eric Waters, wide receiver Darius White and running back Greg White.
It’s worth noting that Yost said the knee injury to Waters – which is not believed to be serious – has had an affect on the goal-line packages Missouri has been working on, of late. Pinkel mentioned Saturday that it was imperative for Missouri to perform better in short-yardage situations than it last year.
“We’re trying to figure out what we’re going to use in short-yardage situations, what we’re going to use in the goal-line areas,” Yost said. “We’ve put in some different things that we really like but it comes down to your personnel, if they can handle it. And with Eric being out right now…we didn’t do the attached tight-end stuff. Not because it’s not in (the playbook), (but because) it’s a matter of Eric’s not (being) back until Monday. We’re not going to send (freshman tight end) Brandon Holifield in and say ‘Hey, why don’t you go block Brad Madison or Michael Sam? But we’ll bring him along.”
Waters is listed atop the depth chart at tight end, but receiver Bud Sasser has been getting his reps with the first team since he got hurt earlier this week.
Video: Richardson vs. Ealy -- who is faster?
Defensive linemen Sheldon Richardson and Kony Ealy are buddies off the field, but very competitive on it. When a reporter asked Ealy who was the fastest D-lineman, Richardson -- who was standing nearby -- said himself, while Ealy, of course, disagreed. Then this happens. Can you tell who won?
The kicking game was practically flawless today. Trey Barrow and Andrew Baggett (Lee’s Summit North) are neck-and-neck for the starting placekicking job, and both players responded by going a perfect 5-for-5 from field-goal range. Walk-on Brad Clements (Lee’s Summit West) made both of his attempts, as well…receiver Jimmie Hunt had a nice day, making a number of catches underneath and finishing with six catches for 68 yards.
And finally, here are some stats from the scrimmage, as distributed by MU's athletic department.
Kendial Lawrence 1 run
James Franklin, 18-22, 228 yards
Corbin Berkstresser, 13-31, 121 yards, 1 interception
Maty Mauk, 25-36, 152 yards
Brock Bondurant, 3-3, 16 yards
Eric Laurent, 1-3, 11 yards
Levi Copelin, 7 catches, 37 yards
Jimmie Hunt, 6 catches 68 yards
Kendial Larence, 6 catches, 50 yards
Jared McGriff-Culver, 5 catches, 32 yards
Dorial Green-Beckham, 4 catches, 20 yards
L'Damian Washington, 3 catches, 52 yards
Rolandis Woodland, 3 catches, 40 yards
Bud Sasser, 3 catches, 38 yards
Brandon Holifield, 3 catches, 24 yards
Wesley Leftwich, 3 catches, 19 yards
Miles Drummond, 3 catches, 17 yards
Gahn McGaffie, 2 catches, 36 yards
Kerwin Stricker, 2 catches, 33 yards
Jaleel Clark, 2 catches, 20 yards
Marcus Murphy, 2 catches, 12 yards
Tyler Hunt, 2 catches, 0 yards
Marcus Lucas, 1 catch, 17 yards
James Franklin, 1 catch, 3 yards
Kendial Lawrence, 11 attempts, 37 yards, 1 TD
Marcus Murphy, 11-35
Jared McGriff-Culver, 6-19
Maty Mauk, 4-19
Tyler Hunt 3-14
Brock Bondurant 1-7
Morgan Steward 2-2
Miles Drummond 1-1
James Franklin 1-0
Eric Laurent 2-(-3)
Corbin Berkstresser 1-(-5)
Kenronte Walker 1-20
TACKLES FOR LOSS
Sheldon Richardson (3), Will Ebner (2), Harold Brantley (1), Kentrell Brothers (1), Brayden Burnett (1), Michael Sam (1), Zaviar Gooden (1), Shane Ray (1), Ka’Ra Stewart (1), E.J. Gaines (1), Brad Madison (1), Jimmy Burge (1), Jared Parham (1), Donovan Bonner (1).
QB SACKS M
ichael Sam (2), Kony Ealy (1), Evan Winston (1), Clayton Echard (1), Keric Lickerman (1).
Kony Ealy (2), E.J. Gaines (1), Ernest Payton (1), Cortland Browning (1), Evan Winston (1), Donavin Newsom (1).
Donovan Bonner (1), Daniel Easterly (1), Michael Sam (1).
Shane Ray (1), Brayden Burnett (1).
Andrew Baggett, 5-5 (28, 28, 20, 37, 26)
Trey Barrow, 5-5 (28, 28, 20, 44, 30)
Brad Clements, 2-2 (28, 28)
Trey Barrow, 4-171, 1 inside the 20
Christian Brinser, 4-175
Missouri's players will get Sunday off and return to practice bright and early at 7:15 a.m. Monday, but that doesn't mean I'm taking a day off on the blog. I’ll be posting another football notebook tomorrow afternoon, so stay tuned.
To reach Terez A. Paylor, call 816-234-4489 or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/TerezPaylor and on Instagram at TerezPaylor.