COLUMBIA — It’s certainly not a big thing, and in the grand scheme of things, it probably won’t matter.
By TEREZ A. PAYLOR
The Kansas City Star
But when sophomore kicker Andrew Baggett drilled a 45-yard kick through the uprights in Missouri’s 16th preseason practice Saturday morning, he clinched the overall camp championship for the offense, which — considering all the issues the unit had last season — had to provide some measure of comfort for new offensive coordinator Josh Henson.
“I think we made strides in every area,” Henson said. “I think our quarterbacks are reading" defenses "and playing better, I think our receivers are running more precise routes and catching the football better, I think our running game is improving. I think there’s a lot of good things. We just have to keep working.”
Saturday was the final time the offensive and defensive units squared off in the competitive scoring system, which determines a winning side each day. Entering the practice, the overall camp score was tied. The Tigers will resume practice Tuesday in preparation for their season opener vs. Murray State on Aug. 31.
Henson, who takes over a unit that ranked in the bottom half of the 14-team Southeastern Conference in practically several important offensive category, also touched on a number of topics after the practice.
A few highlights:
*Henson said he was happy with the production of Missouri’s tight ends in Thursday’s scrimmage. Between them, redshirt freshman Sean Culkin, senior Eric Waters and sophomore Clayton Echard teamed up to catch eight passes for 132 yards and two touchdowns.
“Yeah, that’s what we want them to be,” Henson said. “Eventually, we want guys that are good at both” blocking and catching. “Those are the guys that have a chance to play in the NFL … effective enough at the line of scrimmage to block and get done what you need to get done and then they’re potent enough in the passing game to make some plays for us like they did the other day.
“I think the more those guys can do that, the more versatile it makes us. I didn’t go into that scrimmage saying ‘Boy, we’re going to hit the tight end.’ It just kind of happens sometimes. When those things are happening like that, that’s a product of your quarterback making good decisions with his eyes in the right place, reading the coverage correctly and the ball is going where it should go.”
Henson seemed to be particularly pleased with Waters, who caught three passes for 80 yards, including a 36-yard touchdown.
“I think he’s really improved,” Henson said. “I think he’s running routes a lot better, and he’s got really good hands. He’s done a nice job for us. He and Sean have really improved in camp. We’re headed toward where we want to be headed at that spot.”
Henson said he sees those two, plus Echard — a walk-on — seeing the field this season. He also didn’t rule out playing treu freshman Jason Reese, who may redshirt.
“I think Clayton Echard has his roles,” Henson said. “I think Jason Reese is a guy that could, with reps, help us. I think he’s got a bright future. You know, it’s kind of funny. We went from not having a lot of depth there to” me “feeling decent about the depth. That’s a good thing.”
The group, which includes senior Kyle Peasel, also caught five passes for 69 yards in the first scrimmage on Aug, 10.
*Henson said the staff is looking for a short-yardage back in its power sets, and many players are auditioning for the role.
“Some guys have a knack for” when “there ain’t much there and they kind of squeeze through and get a yard,” Henson said. “I think there’s a lot of different things we can do in short yardage. But we’re trying to develop that personality of if we just feel like we need to grind a yard, we can.”
*Henson said junior running back Henry Josey, who has recovered from a knee injury that kept him out all of last season, is full go, though the staff has been careful with his workload.
“We haven’t leaned on him like that yet, so I think it will be one of those things where we just kind of see how it goes,” Henson said. “But I think the good news is Henry is doing really well. I think the other backs are too and I think we’ve got more than one guy there that can be explosive for us.”
The Gavin Otte Show
Junior walk-ons rarely get any attention from the media, but when you’ve caught 16 passes for 171 yards and three touchdowns in two scrimmages — as receiver Gavin Otte has this preseason — there’s bound to be a few questions. As he was surrounded by a few media members after the practice, more than a few teammates shouted words of encouragement and yelled things like “The Gavin Otte Show!”
Otte, however, is just a man looking for an opportunity. He transferred from Central Missouri after his redshirt freshman year.
“I just had the opportunity to play here, so I thought I’d take advantage of it,” Otte said. “You only get one career, so I just wanted to see what I could do.”
After redshirting his first year at Central Missouri, Otte said he played on the kickoff, punt and punt return units before he decided to transfer to Missouri.
When asked Thursday about Otte’s potential, receivers coach Pat Washington said he’d like to see what Otte — who was primarily working against the threes and fours in the scrimmages — can do against tougher competition, and would consider giving him a chance to do just that in practice.
The governor drops in
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon dropped in to watch today’s practice and even did his best Knute Rockne impression as he addressed the team afterward. You can watch it here, beginning at the three minute, five second mark, but here’s what he said.
“Because I travel the state and interact with six million Missourians, I want to tell you there’s a huge positive force behind you out there, that wants to see you succeed, that’s looking at a great year,” Nixon said. “Number two, when you represent your state, you represent all of us. And when you do so, remember you’re going to compete every single minute.
“Here in Missouri, we’re the Show Me State, there’s teeth behind our smiles. Every single second the clock is running, we compete. We don’t ever take a second off.”
Senior cornerback E.J. Gaines, who is recovering from a strained patella tendon in his left knee, again sat out practice. Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said Wednesday that Gaines is expected to return in about a week, which means he could conceivably participate in some drills when the Tigers return to practice Tuesday.
Senior receiver L’Damian Washington wore a red pullover, as did junior running back Greg White. Both were limited in practice. Sophomore receiver Wesley Leftwich wore a full red jersey, which means he sat out practice.