COLUMBIA — Only two things will be a given when Missouri holds the first of three preseason scrimmages at 7:30 a.m. Saturday in Memorial Stadium.
By TEREZ A. PAYLOR
The Kansas City Star
The first? It’s going to be long — the staff will try to play as many players as possible for evaluation purposes.
The second? The Tigers clearly will be healthier than last year at this time, when a whopping 11 players missed the first scrimmage.
After Friday’s practice, in which only five players wore red, non-contact jerseys, Missouri coach Gary Pinkel was asked whether he thought his decision to cut back on physical play in camp reduced injuries.
“Two years back-to-back of just getting blasted (with injuries),” Pinkel said. “We tried to make some changes. I don’t think those changes changed life, but I think maybe, psychologically, it adds to our players a little bit and that might be as important as anything.”
Of those five players, Pinkel said redshirt freshman cornerback John Gibson, who has a sprained ankle, is the most likely to sit out the scrimmage, which is closed to the public.
“He’s doing a lot better,” Pinkel said of Gibson, who is battling for playing time opposite returning starter E.J. Gaines. “But cutting on that ankle is a lot different than running straight forward.”
Pinkel was unsure if the other injured players — senior receiver Marcus Lucas (strained hamstring), sophomore receiver Wes Leftwich (strained hamstring), senior receiver Jaleel Clark (bruised knee) and senior safety Matt White (strained groin) — would play, but their injuries don’t appear to be serious.
It would be advantageous for them to heal quickly, because Pinkel said the competition for positions is fierce. He is pleased with the number of young players who have emerged as potential contributors on a team that returns eight starters on offense and six on defense.
“There’s quite a few backup players right now that are very close to not necessarily beating out a starter, but (to us) saying this guy is good enough to play and (help us) win a championship in the SEC,” Pinkel said. “We’ve got several. … I would suggest four to six on each side of the ball, maybe more than that.”
Pinkel said the staff has identified true freshmen who could contribute, though he didn’t elaborate.
“Sometimes that changes — sometimes the next week all of a sudden a guy pops up,” Pinkel said. “Maybe a guy will pop up (Saturday). Playing as a freshman has a lot to do with depth, a lot to do with maturity, a lot to do with your ability to learn our system.”
One thing you can bank on — everyone will get their shot.
“The ones, twos and threes, we’re going to try to get 45 snaps (each) tomorrow,” Pinkel said. “Everybody’s going to play. It’s going to be a long, long scrimmage, as it always is.”
Pinkel was coy when asked if redshirt freshman Maty Mauk will get some snaps with the first-team at quarterback Saturday.
“You’ll have to tune in,” he said.
Mauk is competing with incumbent starter James Franklin. Though Pinkel took Franklin — recently chosen as a team captain by his teammates — to SEC Media Days in mid-July, he hasn’t announced who will start Missouri’s season opener at 6 p.m. Aug. 31 against Murray State.