Junior running back Nate Strong made his first appearance Tuesday at Missouri’s spring practice, and sophomore outside linebacker T.J. Warren also returned from a previously undisclosed suspension.
Both players were sidelined for unspecified violations of team rules.
Strong — a 6-foot, 210-pound East St. Louis graduate and junior-college transfer, who had 32 carries for 137 yards with two touchdowns last season — was suspended before the Tigers opened spring practice March 7.
Warren was spotted at practice early in camp, but subsequently was suspended.
“Those guys fulfilled their suspension within the program,” second-year Mizzou coach Barry Odom said. “They’ve had a lot to do within the last month to get back to where they are today.”
Strong provides depth at tailback, where Odom said the staff is trying to limit wear-and-tear on sophomore Damarea Crockett and senior running back Ish Witter.
“Having Nate back out there is going to help, and he’s got a chance to go compete now,” Odom said. “Same thing for T.J. on the other side. He’s up to about 215 pounds and playing a couple of different spots for us, like he ended last year.”
Warren arrived as a cornerback and started at that spot during last year’s spring game, but he transitioned to a hybrid linebacker role during fall camp.
J’den Cox’s future
Odom said he hasn’t spoken with three-time NCAA 197-pound wrestling champion J’den Cox, who has repeatedly said he wants to play football at Mizzou next season.
“We haven’t, but I look forward, if that’s something that’s in the makings, then we’ll sit down and kind of talk through it,” Odom said.
Athletes have a five-year window to participate in four seasons per sport of college athletics, per NCAA rules.
While Cox has used up his four years of wrestling eligibility, he still has another year to pursue other sports if he desires.
Odom said there are some compliance and NCAA regulations to work through, “but what a great competitor,” he said of Cox. “I’ve got tremendous respect for him. I don’t know how (USA Wrestling) would handle that. I think they’re counting on him, too. But he’s such a great kid and an unbelievable ambassador for the University of Missouri.”
Cox played linebacker at Hickman High in Columbia before focusing on his wrestling career, which also included an Olympic bronze-medal victory in freestyle competition last August in Brazil.
He’d be welcomed back onto the gridiron.
“If he can get through all the things you’d have to work through, I would like to see what he could do, no doubt,” Odom said. “And, I’m also scared of him.”
Redshirt freshman tight end Albert Okwuegbunam wore a non-contact jersey Tuesday after suffering a minor hamstring injury before last week’s spring break.
He was the only new addition to the spring-football injury report, but junior defensive end Spencer Williams, who is listed atop the spring depth chart opposite senior Marcell Frazier, was absent from practice.
“He needed to be away from practice today,” said Odom, who indicated Williams is not suspended. “I’m going to meet with him (Wednesday). He’s got a couple of things going on.”
Two players, junior safety Cam Hilton (shoulder surgery) and Witter (shoulder surgery), who had been limited before spring break have been cleared for all activity.
Defensive tackles Terry Beckner Jr. (knee surgery) and Markell Utsey (knee surgery) remain limited.
Junior tight end Kendall Blanton (foot surgery), junior wide receiver Nate Brown (shoulder surgery) and sophomore defensive end Franklin Agbasimere (foot surgery) are sidelined for the remainder of spring practice.
Odom said Brown is expected to return in early June.