COLUMBIA — After freshman tackle Harneet Gill left the team because of a lingering foot injury he suffered a year ago, Missouri coach Gary Pinkel took a minute after Monday’s practice to defend the Tigers’ training staff.
By TEREZ A. PAYLOR
The Kansas City Star
“We have a great medical staff here, certainly our trainers and all the support we have, Pat Smith, all the great surgeons in this town, it’s a tremendous asset,” Pinkel said. “One thing I make very clear when I talk to parents in the house, we talk about relationships and communication. One thing I tell them too, they have to understand that we care about our players like they’re my kids. We care about them like they’re my kids. And we all do, OK?
“That’s what we do. And so our medical staff does a great job and we’re very appreciative of their efforts and how they work.”
Gill, a 6-foot-6, 285-pound three-star prospect, said he suffered a lisfranc fracture in his foot last August and missed his senior season at Francis Howell High School. He said Sunday that he arrived at Missouri in the summer, received a rehab plan and attempted to work through the pain, but failed a physical and grew frustrated with the amount of discomfort he felt during the process.
Gill, who participated in Missouri’s first practice on Thursday but wore a red non-contact jersey the next day, said his ongoing injury caused him to lose some passion for the game, which also played a part in his decision to leave. He sought a second opinion on the injury and now hopes to enroll in a community college, where rehab the foot on his own and hopefully earn another football scholarship somewhere down the line.
“Harneet is a great kid, so I wish him well,” Pinkel said. “Regardless of that situation, we always have great relationships with our players. We work very hard at it, and we’ve got to make sure we’re honest and they’re honest back with us. Sometimes things happen for that reason.”
When asked about Gill on Monday, offensive coordinator Josh Henson — who Gill praised on his way out, along with lead recruiter Cornell Ford — echoed Pinkel’s words.
“I wish him the best,” Henson said.
Notes from Monday’s practice
Pinkel apparently couldn’t help but notice defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski’s optimism about his young crop of freshmen.
“Coach Kul said this is the best group of young defensive linemen we’ve ever had since we’ve been here as a group, and that’s saying a lot if you go in his room and look at all the guys that have played in the NFL,” Pinkel said. “And he’s real conservative, he’s not the kind of guy who runs out and (says that). You have to prove things to him. So I’m real encouraged by that group of guys.”
In defensive tackles Josh Augusta, Nate Crawford, A.J. Logan, DeQuinton Osborne and defensive end Marcus Loud, Kuligowski sees five players with the necessary tools to play in the Southeastern Conference.
“These guys, size-wise, are bigger probably than the average guys we’ve brought in before,” Kuligowski said. “Marcus Loud is a 255-pound defensive end. He’s done a good job. Nate Crawford is 280 pounds or more. And we’ve had three 300 guys who are over 320 pounds. So these guys, size-wise and strength-wise, are ahead of a lot of freshmen that come in here so we’re pretty encouraged.”
Kuligowski said the 6-4 Augusta, the 6-2 Logan and the 6-foot Osborne all reported to camp weighing over 320 pounds, but have since dipped under that mark. The goal, he said, is to get all three to a certain weight and body fat percentage that will allow them to play their best. Kuligowski then cited defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, who got in shape before last season and went on to become a first-round NFL Draft pick.
“We want to get them to their optimal body fat, just like Sheldon,” Kuligowski said, “Sheldon was 300-and-something pounds, then he got down to a level where he was at that optimal body fat, and then he actually got underneath it and he could play lights out. He wasn’t hot and cold — he was hot every play. So that’s the idea.”
With plenty of practices remaining, Kuligowski wasn’t ready to say if he thinks any freshmen can contribute immediately. But he certainly encourages the competition.
“If they end up beating out somebody, and I’m not saying that’s gonna happen, but if they end up beating out somebody that makes you better as a group,” Kuligowski said.
• Cornerbacks coach Cornell Ford has been pleased with the physicality of freshmen Aarion Penton and Anthony Sherrils, a necessity in Missouri’s Tampa 2 scheme, which often asks cornerbacks to blitz, support the run and play bump-and-run coverage.
“I think Sherills has great size and he’s very athletic,” Ford said. “Aarion is probably not as big as Sherrils, but he’s very competitive and very, very quick and picks up things really well. And Aarion is physical enough.”
A quick, weird number change: Freshman safety Shaun Rupert is wearing No. 19 while redshirt freshman safety Chaston Ward is wearing No. 13. Their numbers are flipped on Missouri’s official preseason roster and depth chart.
I’ve updated the depth chart on our site to reflect the change.
Junior cornerback Xavier Smith was wearing a red non-contact jersey and a walking boot at practice Monday. Pinkel said he has a foot bruise.
“They X-rayed his foot, and it was OK,” Pinkel said. “He just needs some rest right now, so that’s kind of where he is.”
Pinkel said sophomore receiver Wes Leftwich strained his hamstring in practice Monday.
“It wasn’t from just sprinting, he got stuck and he slid in the grass,” Pinkel said. “That’s the tough thing about being (on) grass. That factors a little bit greater here than it is on the stadium.”
Freshman defensive tackle A.J. Logan continues to wear a red non-contact jersey as he recovers from meniscus surgery on his knee.
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