Columbia — Missouri coach Gary Pinkel has long said that both of his true freshman running backs - Russell Hansbrough and Morgan Steward - have a chance to earn playing time this season. Based on Friday's practice, it's looking more and more like Hansbrough, in particular, is in line to do just that.
By TEREZ A. PAYLOR
The Kansas City Star
Hansbrough, a 5-foot-9, 180-pound speedster from Arlington, Tex., earned a few reps with ones on Friday, a development that comes on the heels of an impressive performance in a scrimmage Thursday where he rushed six times for 39 yards and a touchdown.
And Hansbrough, who was limited during the first week of fall camp with an ankle injury but has routinely shown a nice combination of speed and moves ever since, continued to flash his ability in the final period of Friday's practice. He opened the session by hauling in a short swing pass from quarterback Corbin Berkstresser and eluding the No. 2 defense over the next 20 yards or so for a touchdown. He also scored on a short touchdown run from just inside the 5-yard line later in the period.
Add his increased reps to the fact he was standing third in the running back line during pre-practice stretching - which is often an indication of the current depth chart - and it stands to reason Hansbrough, who used to be fifth in line, is well on his way to earning some carries this season.
However, it must be said that Pinkel - when asked specifically Friday about Hansbrough's chances of playing early this season - reiterated that no determination has been made about any freshman's playing status.
"We haven't done that with anybody yet," Pinkel said. "There's several guys we're looking at. We've talked about that at great length."
Pinkel did, however, acknowledge that Hansbrough is making a positive impression and rising up the depth chart.
"He's moving up a little bit, and he's obviously got some quickness," Pinkel said. "And a lot of (the decision) has to do with maturity and other things. We're fortunate that we've got some depth there (with) two real good freshmen. We'll see how it shakes out."
Fellow freshman Morgan Steward, a graduate of Staley High School, has had his moments in camp, but was sixth in the running back stretching line behind Jared McGriff-Culver, walk-on Tyler Hunt and the aforementioned players.
*The offense won practice today, marking only the second time all camp it has done so. The two sides entered the final period tied, but Hansbrough's two touchdowns - plus two more strikes from quarterback James Franklin to senior inside receiver Gahn McGaffie - proved to be the difference as the offense earned some measure of revenge after losing to the defense 18-4 in Thursday's scrimmage.
"The offense has been taking a little bit of a beating, so I thought they competed hard today," Pinkel said. "The defense did, too."
*Pinkel decided to cancel this afternoon's scheduled practice, opting to hold meetings instead.
"We have that as an either/or kind (of thing), depending on how things are going and the health of our football team," Pinkel said. "We'll get in good meeting time and take advantage of that, then we'll get in a good practice tomorrow morning."
Speaking of the team's health...
Safety Braylon Webb was held out of drills today. He played in Thursday's scrimmage and appears to be the only player to suffering from a new injury. Team spokesman Chad Moller said he did not know what is plaguing Webb, but will have an update later. Junior Matt White replaced Webb with the first-team defense throughout practice.
Also, several players who missed Thursday's scrimmage remain in red non-contact jerseys: offensive tackle Justin Britt, linebacker Will Ebner, cornerback Kip Edwards, defensive tackle Matt Hoch, receiver Jimmie Hunt, receiver T.J. Moe, defensive tackle Lucas Vincent, receiver L'Damian Washington, defensive tackle Evan Winston and receiver Rolandis Woodland.
I did notice that Hunt, who has been battling a foot injury, is now walking around without his protective boot. And yes, this is a geeky uniform observation, but Ebner - who has a pinched nerve in his neck - and Hoch are both wearing extended neck rolls.
Missouri's next practice will begin at 7:15 tomorrow morning. I'll be there bright and early, tweeting observations and gathering information just like always. There won't be a Mizzou story in tomorrow's Star, but I encourage you to start reading our ongoing "Life in the SEC" series if you haven't been already. Today's story - which is written by yours truly - is about the enormous size of SEC stadiums, and how they are often packed to the gills, win or lose. We hammer this home by focusing on South Carolina, a school that captures this reality better than most.
Also, keep your eyes open for a feature I'm writing about defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson for Sunday's Star. I'm also working on a few more SEC stories I'm excited about, and don't forget, The Star's annual college football section comes out Aug. 26. Lots of good stuff coming.