Campus Corner

The Star's blog on college sports, featuring Kansas, Kansas State and Missouri

Observations after the Missouri football team’s first scrimmage

08/13/2014 2:00 AM

08/13/2014 7:00 AM

There wasn’t a lot of unexpected news emerging from Missouri’s first scrimmage of training camp Tuesday at Memorial Stadium.

The offense was out of sync and the defensive line looked great, but that’s not too uncommon early in camp, especially with the moving pieces and new faces on the Tigers’ offense.

Here are a few thoughts from camp:

1. Missouri is in trouble if Mauk gets hurt

It’s easy to forget that sophomore quarterback Maty Mauk is in his first training camp as Missouri’s starter, especially as seamlessly as he slipped into a starting role last October when James Franklin injured his shoulder.

Mauk wasn’t great during the scrimmage, going 16 of 24 for 191 yards with a touchdown and interception and a fumbled exchange with tailback Russell Hansbrough, but he did lead four of the Tigers’ five scoring drives.

Meanwhile, Mauk’s backups, junior Lee’s Summit graduate Corbin Berkstresser and redshirt freshman Eddie Printz, struggled.

Berkstresser was 14 of 29 for 115 yards, while Printz went 16 of 29 for 116 yards.

Printz led the only scoring drive, but it was a six-play, 26-yard drive that started at the plus-41 and resulted in a 33-yard Andrew Baggett field goal.

Playing roughly equal reps with the No. 2 offense against the No. 1 defense or with the No. 3 offense versus the No. 3 defense, neither Berkstresser nor Printz took charge of the backup quarterback race.

“Trust me, it’s all evened up how we have all that going on there,” Pinkel said. “There are a lot of things to take into consideration. I’ve been doing this a long time. When you’re going against the one defense — our two defense is pretty good, too — there are some mismatches up front because of youth, and you’re scrambling.

“What we’re trying to see is are they managing the game right. Are they getting rid of the ball, not trying to take sacks? Things like that. You can only do what you can do. You can’t be Superman back there and create things that can’t happen. We’ll see where it goes. There’s certainly competition there.”

2. The running back situation is fine

Junior tailback Russell Hansbrough had runs of 3, 17 and 30 yards to start the day. He finished with five carries for 49 yards.

Hansbrough, who replaces Henry Josey as Missouri’s feature back, is a proven commodity.

Senior Marcus Murphy, who has worked exclusively at slot receiver so far in camp, will get the occasional handoff still, and his skills are well-established.

Sophomore Morgan Steward, who missed Tuesday’s scrimmage with a hip injury, showed what he can do in spring ball.

There’s still more depth beyond that.

Junior walk-on Tyler Hunt has played well during camp and continued to play well in the scrimmage, including a nifty 24-yard touchdown run.

“It definitely boosts my confidence,” Hunt said. “I’ve been on the scout team in the past and made a lot of plays with the scout team against the ones. It’s about the same now, but there’s a little higher intensity.”

Meanwhile, freshman Trevon Walters looked fantastic. He appears ready to contribute right away and could start the year No. 3 on the depth chart if Murphy moves primarily to receiver. He had 14 carries for 93 yards.

Fellow freshman Ish Witter also had his moments. He got tagged early on swing passes — junior cornerback Kenya Dennis belted Witter in the midsection and he was slow to get up and senior linebacker Darvin Ruise laid him out later.

Still, Witter showed some toughness and durability. He finished with 11 carries for 55 yards and caught five passes for 40 yards, including a 30-yard screen pass to convert third-and-18 in a two-minute drill.

“They’re doing a great job and they’re obviously talented,” Hunt said. “They’re here for a reason. … They’re making plays out here and want to play, so they’re running hard. It makes me have to step up my game.”

3. All’s fine on the defensive line

Everyone, and I mean quite literally everyone, on Missouri’s defensive line made plays during the scrimmage.

Senior defensive tackle Lucas Vincent, an Olathe North graduate, might have been the Tigers’ best player on the field. He was disruptive and ferocious.

But starting defensive ends Markus Golden and Shane Ray were thorns on the offense’s side as expected, too.

Reserves Charles Harris, Marcus Loud, Josh Augusta, Harold Brantley, Ricky Hatley, Justin Grava, Eddie Serrano and Rocel McWilliams also made their presence felt.

4. Don’t worry about the secondary

Cornerbacks John Gibson and Aarion Penton are young, but they also garnered a lot of experience last season.

Even without third-year starting strong safety Braylon Webb, a senior who is being brought back slowly after offseason shoulder surgery, the secondary looked fairly well organized and very athletic.

Dennis is a big, physical playmaker outside or in the slot. He picked off Mauk on a deep throw down the right sideline, out-battling Darius White, and crushed Witter in the open field on a swing pass.

Seniors David Johnson and Duron Singleton made plays all over the field.

Freshmen Logan Cheadle and Raymond Wingo showed good instincts and great recovery skills for pass breakups.

Freshman Thomas Wilson ended the scrimmage by picking off Marvin Zanders in a two-minute drill.

Redshirt freshmen Shaun Rupert and Eric Beisel also showed decent ball skills at times.

There’s depth and guys are playing well throughout the secondary.

5. Receiver questions

Of course, the flip side to the secondary’s success is that few wide receivers put in eye-popping days at the office.

A lot of guys contributed:

Senior Bud Sasser made a couple great catches during the two-minute drill to close the scrimmage, but he wasn’t a factor before that.

Senior Jimmie Hunt made a nice adjustment for a 29-yard touchdown, but he only had two catches for 8 yards aside from Mauk’s scoring strike.

White didn’t make much of an impact with only one catch for 6 yards.

Murphy was fine from the slot, but he didn’t find himself in as much space as Missouri would want, finishing with four catches for 16 yards.

Senior Gavin Otte made back-to-back catches for 7 and 10 yards, but suffered a sprained ankle being tackled and was in a boot after the scrimmage.

Junior Wesley Leftwich made the biggest play, a 48-yard catch and run, but he was run down from behind.

Sophomore Jake Brents proved to be a nice security blanket for Zanders with the fourth string, catching four passes for 54 yards.

Among the freshmen, DeSean Blair didn’t have a catch, but Thomas Richard looked dangerous — more dangerous than redshirt freshman J’Mon Moore on the quick bubble screens.

Moore had three catches for 13 yards, while Richard had five catches for 44 yards.

Freshman Nate Brown made some tough catches, including one in heavy traffic, finishing with four receptions for 37 yards.

Finally, freshman Lawrence Lee showed flashes of playmaking potential from the slot with three catches for 16 yards.

Still, there was nobody in the group that looked like a dominant, all-conference performer. Nobody who looked as scary for defenses as Dorial Green-Beckham, L’Damian Washington or even Marcus Lucas — the three starters Missouri must replace from last season.

Of course, it’s still very early, and the tight ends were a bright spot with sophomore Sean Culkin and redshirt freshman Jason Reese combining for seven catches for 88 yards.

To reach Tod Palmer, call 816-234-4389 or send email to tpalmer@kcstar.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/todpalmer.

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