July 31, 2013

Former MU players say move to cut back hitting in camp is wise

Missouri coach Gary Pinkel eliminated two-a-day practices and will cut down on hitting during the Tigers’ preseason practices that start Thursday, largely because of the toll injuries have taken on his group the last two years.

Chase Daniel nodded his head at the question and smiled. The former Missouri star, now the Chiefs’ backup quarterback, had indeed heard about the significant change coming to his alma mater’s preseason football camp.

Missouri coach Gary Pinkel announced his team

would essentially be doing less hitting

this August, largely because of the toll injuries have taken on his group the last two years.

“I’m all about recovery now,” Pinkel declared in mid-July.

Daniel, of course, wasn’t surprised. He and his former MU players had been asking Pinkel to make the change for years.

“We were campaigning for it back in ’06, ’07 and ’08,” Daniel said. “We went through some pretty strenuous camps there. But that’s how he is, he’s a physical coach.”

Until now, Pinkel hasn’t had much reason to change. First off, you would be hard-pressed to find a football player who doesn’t think camp should be a little lighter. And second, Daniel played during the best five-year stretch in recent Mizzou history — the Tigers were 48-19 and won or shared the Big 12 North title three times from 2006-10.

Of course, a disappointing 5-7 finish last season in which the Tigers failed to reach a bowl for the first time since 2004 gave Pinkel a reason to change this year’s camp, which starts Thursday in Columbia.

“I think he’s learning in the SEC, the most physical conference in football. You’ve got to have your guys healthy week in and week out,” said Daniel, who said he last spoke to Pinkel at a golf tournament this summer. “I know he’s a big practice guy, he really is. But he also understands ‘Hey, I’ve got to get my guys ready for games.’”

Before last season started, the Tigers saw their starting quarterback, James Franklin, and five of their top 10 offensive linemen come down with injuries. True freshman Evan Boehm, who played guard, was the only offensive lineman to start all 12 games.

Former Mizzou defensive lineman Brad Madison — who played for the Tigers last fall and is now trying to make the Chiefs as a long snapper — had a feeling Pinkel would lighten up on his players this August.

“We cut back a little bit last year during the season on the full pads,” Madison said. “After all the injuries we had, you got to do something, got to try something at least.”

MU cornerback E.J. Gaines said he and the team’s other leaders — linebacker Andrew Wilson, receiver L’Damian Washington and quarterback James Franklin — broached the idea with Pinkel during a senior meeting after the season.

“The seniors just brought it to him and asked what he thought about it and he came back and was like, ‘I think it’s a good idea,’” Gaines said. “We didn’t necessarily say back off on the two-a-days or anything like that, but just try to find a way to minimize the injuries. And that’s something the coaching staff came up with.”

Pinkel said the staff has decided to cut down on hitting in some drills and cut down two-a-days from five to none.

Franklin said his teammates were thrilled — “they won the small lottery or something” — when Pinkel gave them the news.

“A lot of people think Coach Pinkel is set in his ways, but he always comes to the seniors first before anything is set in stone,” receiver L’Damian Washington said. “All the seniors thought it was pretty awesome of him and I think its going to pay dividends.”

The players, however, know they have to do their part now. Citing reverence for his mentor, hard-nosed ex-Washington coach Don James, Pinkel promised that practices will remain intense.

Missouri finished ninth in the SEC against the run last season, and 12th in the SEC in rushing offense, so there is still plenty of improvement that needs to be made in the trenches. Gaines is confident the lighter preseason schedule won’t affect that effort.

“I feel like as a defense, as an offense, we’re physical,” Gaines said, “and Coach Pinkel knows that. That’s why he feels like he can back off a little bit.”

Linebacker Andrew Wilson added that an emphasis on gap control gives him hope the Tigers can improve on their scoring defense, which ranked 11th in the SEC last season, allowing 28.4 points per game.

“It’s about having the mind-set that I’m gonna tackle this dude, he’s not going anywhere after I get him,” Wilson said.

Madison agrees with Gaines and Wilson and can’t wait to see how it all plays out. He just wishes Pinkel had come to this decision last August, before he and the rest of the seniors ended their college careers with a disappointing record.

“I wish we would have gotten that,” Madison said with a laugh. “Camp (stinks), so you’re always hoping that they cut back … but I think the little bit of cutting back they’re doing will be a good thing. I guess we’ll find out.”

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