COLUMBIA — It would have been hard to blame Max Copeland if he had refused to tempt fate on Wednesday, if he had avoided the question.
By TEREZ A. PAYLOR
The Kansas City Star
But upon being reminded that Missouris offensive line had not suffered one significant injury seven days into preseason camp, Copeland, an enthusiastic senior guard, preferred to embrace the way the fortune of the group has seemingly changed.
So far, were about seven days into camp and were all feeling great, Copeland said.
That wasnt the case last year, when four of the Tigers top 10 linemen on the two-deep had already gotten hurt by this point.
You could say its because we practice different, you could say its because the o-line has been in the training room a little bit more, taking preventative measures, you could say its because weve been more consistent with our diets but its all the above, really, Copeland said.
Start with the preventative measures. With last years injury woes still fresh in their minds at least eight linemen went down at one point or another starting right tackle Mitch Morse said the Tigers starters have put a renewed emphasis on taking care of their bodies.
For instance, they hold each other accountable when necessary, even when it comes to the dreaded cold tub, which helps recovery but comes with a special mixture of discomfort that only athletes know.
Sometimes it will be like Hey, you and me, were going to the cold tub I need a partner, lets roll, Morse said. Its not fun, but if youve got a guy saying, Lets go, youre like, I cant wuss out of this.
Stories like this show that after last years debacle, in which Missouri finished 11th in the Southeastern Conference in both total and scoring offense, this years group is determined to stay healthy and stick together.
We had a (17-man) group text message right after last season so we were able to connect with each other on a day-to-day basis, even when we havent seen each other, Morse said.
The coaching staff, apparently, has done its part in keeping the group intact, too. Offensive tackle Justin Britt said he thinks Missouri coach Gary Pinkels decision to run a less physically demanding camp has played a role in the groups relative health.
Call me crazy, but I think practices are a little shorter this year, Britt said. Everything coach Pinkel has emphasized and done to keep people fresh has really worked. I know, speaking for myself, that since we havent had an afternoon practice yet, I feel fresher in the mornings and we come out here with a better attitude, wanting to work.
Offensive line coach Bruce Walker didnt want to jinx the groups good luck, but he did say the coaches also have been consciously encouraging players to stay on their feet in practice, even in full pads.
Unfortunately injuries are a part of this game and we had an unfair amount of those last year, so hopefully the gods are gonna shine on us this year and balance it up for us, Walker said. If that happens, were going to have a great year.
Sophomore center Evan Boehm says you can already see glimpses of improvement. Boehm is part of a unit that returns four starters who made a combined 43 starts last season, and he says that collective experience pays off daily in practice, where it takes fewer time for the group to make its line calls before every play.
Now were out there, and its like OK, here we go, Boehm said. We walk up to the line, we call out the mike (linebacker), we get down to the ball and we go. Were an experienced offensive line.
Now the Tigers just have to stay healthy. And the unit is understandably leaving nothing to chance.
We (didnt) understand what it can mean if youre not taking every possible measure, because really, we didnt have a harsh experience to draw from, Copeland said of last season. But we had some of our best friends go down last season and you see that and youre like, The best way you can honor that dude is to not let something that happen to you or your buddies again. So we do what weve got to do.