The kicking game, and special teams overall were very much on Coach Gary Pinkel's mind after Saturday's scrimmage. "We're working very hard in the kicking game. I thought Hoenes punted pretty good today, and again the game type situation is what we are really wanting to evaluate," said Coach Pinkel. "And Crossett in the game type situations did a good job (field goals). We were having some snapping concerns, holding concerns, I would suggest its more snap that I'm real concerned about." That's not all of Pinkel's special team concerns. "I'm really concerned about the punt return. I'm really concerned about the kick-off return. I think we are seeing some progress, but it's not complete progress," he added.
While help might come this fall with two potential long-snappers suppose to arrive in August, Pinkel would prefer not to wait. "Well possibly, but you don't like to wait for the fall for help. You'd like to solve all your problems in the spring, ideally. If you can't then you look to help in the fall. We'd certainly like to get some of these things solved right now."
BATTLE for 2nd QB
"Real competition going on there," said Pinkel. "Real battle going on there, and that's good. That's very positive."
Kearney's Tommy Saunders has been getting a lot of publicity after coming to the Mizzou program as a walk-on wide receiver last fall. Red-shirted as a freshman he has an opportunity to gain a scholarship this fall. He has made an impression on both fans and the coaches.
"He's got great quickness, and he's got great hands. Some of the things we're doing in our offense right now, if he can do that, and just be a great receiver from the standpoint of catching the ball, then he can do a lot of things," said Coach Gary Pinkel.
Pinkel was obviously happy with is eleven-catch scrimmage performance in a quickly depleting receiving corps. "He did some good things today, and we're pleased with his progress," he added.
The one sticking point in Saunders performance is his 40-times. His 4.7 40 doesn't exactly conjure up memories of Willie Gault, but is it good enough for a high major D-1 program?
"At times (I feel comfortable with my speed), at other times I don't," explained Saunders. "I can always get faster."
Sanuders' summer work will most assuredly be aimed at gaining more speed, but how does he grade his spring work?
"I haven't had the spring that I wanted to, and today I knew I had to come out and just play," said Saunders. "When opportunities come you just have to make plays with the football."
He graded himself with a "B" after Saturday's scrimmage, because he had two drops. "You can't get an "A" if you have a drop," he said.
The new offense has created new problems for Saunders and all of his receiving mates. "You've just got to concentrate every play. Learning reading defenses, and with the new offense it's reading the play and the defense at the same time." 11/15 for 95 (two drops, two overthrows).
TEMPLE OF DOOM
By now, we all know that Missouri Coach Gary Pinkel rarely gives high praise to a player. If you listen closely to Pinkel these days concerning his highly prized Kansas City recruit, you can hear some of the same excitement that first came with Brad Smith four years ago.
In this case, redshirt-freshman running back Tony Temple is the benefactor of Pinkel's excitement.
"He has a chance to be an electrifying player," said Pinkel after Saturday's scrimmage. "He hasn't done anything yet, but he's working very hard, and I think that's the key. With a great work ethic, I think he can accomplish a lot."
Temple put the ball on the carpet three times (once was a mishandled punt), but you certainly wouldn't know it after the scrimmage.
"He's had a great (spring) practice. Fumbled the ball a couple of times today, a little bit, but he is doing some really, really good things," described Pinkel.
Temple on the other hand knows he has a lot of work to do. "I'm very disappointed about putting the ball on the ground. That's one thing, as a running back that you never want to do," he said.
The injury to Marcus Woods has left the door open for Tony to be the man.
"If I'm put to that, I just want to make sure these younger backs can learn from me, and I can just be a good role model. I'm just trying to make sure that I can get better," he explained. "I'm not content at all with what I did today. I think I have a lot of things to work on, and I plan on just getting better everyday. I plan on watching film tonight."
Preparation is the key, and Temple knows it. "That's what the weight room is about, that's what conditioning is about. I put 13 pounds of muscle on this winter. I'm ready, and I'm planning on putting on more (muscle), and just getting bigger, stronger, and faster."
The spring has helped in that regard, and in him stepping up. "I think in a sense that I'm becoming more of a leader, and I've really been able to help the younger guys out and try to learn everything. We've been trying to learn everything about this offense. Overall I think I became a better player, being a leader and more vocal."
Temple knows the new offense will help all of the backs, not just him. "The more running laned, the more space we got, especially the kind of running backs that we are, it's a lot of fun, and when the offensive line sees us making yards, and gaining big gains, they want to block harder, so it's a lot of fun. It's great to have an offensive line like that to just open up everything for you. It really does (take hits away from me)."
The new "spread" offense is about making big plays. "That is what it's about. We want to make big plays, we want to score whenever we are on the field, and I think with the spread offense we got now, it's working for us, and we are just going to add on and keep getting better."
Other than today's fumbles how did Tony do? "Overall I think I did well, I went hard on every single play whether I was getting the ball or not."
Over the past two year Tiger fans have watched as MAD MAX, a.k.a. Jason Simpson, wrecked havoc in the Tigers' defensive backfield. He has been one of the most consistent defenders for Missouri, and has gained more control as compared to the Simpson of two years ago. This past year he still seemed the free spirit, but a change was noticeable. A big enough change to garner him 2nd Team All-Big-12 accolades, and a lot of people, including me thought he should have been first team.
"Everyone knows I got suspended for the K-State game two years ago. Ever since then I've been straight as an arrow," said Simpson. "I'm just trying to be a good role model for the younger players. You can't really influence anybody to do something the right way if you're doing it the wrong way. It's just not on the football field, it's everything off (the field, too).
Why the change? Simpson credits talks with his parents, his brother, and his roommate (Craig) to see that he needed a change is his lifestyle. "I realized I needed it in my life, and I wasn't too (proud) to do it."
Pinkel remembers the situation well. "Jason matured and I think that is the best way of saying it. He's a great competitor. He's got a lot of fire, and I love his personality. He came up to me after he was having some issues with us and he said ‘Coach do you want me to be more like you?', I looked him in the eye and I said, ‘I don't want you to be like me. I don't want you to be more like me at all. I just want a responsible Jason Simpson, with your fire, with your enthusiasm, with your excitement.'
And he's doing a great job leading this football team on and off the field. It's great to have an on-the field leader. You can try to teach that all you want, you can encourage it all you want, but he certainly has it. I think it's going to really help us."
A flurry of injuries in the Tiger wide receiving corps is well explained by the very presentable Simpson (he cut his hair off right before the football banquet this winter. "Somebody said it jinxed us for last season. I don't want to do anything to jinx us this year.")
"They take most of the hits. They don't deliver as many as they take. We've always had an emphasis on defense of really trying to hit through people. Make sure the next time they cross that middle they might not want catch it."
Simpson is happy with the number one defense, but realizes depth in the Big 12 season is a must. "I think we are doing all right. We need to establish some more depth. Second and third team we need to just work on that, and get the 2's and 3's on the one level, or close to it."
As far as today's scrimmage, Simpson felt the defense did well until the offense went into the two-minute (actually 1:30) drill. "I noticed our defense got really frazzled, and we were way too energetic, flippin' out to much, you just got to calm yourself. Football is fast-paced, but before the snap it's not, and you've just got to settle down and clear your mind."