It was the question every Tiger fan had in mind as practice started, perhaps even more than wanting to get a look at Dorial Green-Beckham.
“James, how’s the shoulder feeling?”
James Franklin seems to have returned in even better form than last year.
James Franklin missed spring ball with a shoulder injury and all summer we’ve been waiting to look at him throw a football and see his status. While we’ve been hearing from the team that he was developing normally, it was a relief to actually see the Tigers quarterback throwing the ball around without pain on Thursday as practice began in preparation for Missouri’s 2012 season. But not only did we get the good news of seeing Franklin at full health, we got information that might make fans even more optimistic.
The James Franklin who brought 36 TDs to the Tiger offense with his arm and feet last year was never at full health.
“During the summer last year, I was throwing and one of the players hit me and tweaked it and it was never the same. “It’s probably been over a year since my shoulder was fully healthy, so I’m really excited.”
Franklin said the shoulder particularly bothered him during the Independence Bowl game last year. Yeah, that was the game in which Mizzou scored 41 points, you remember.
That it’s fully healthy now was confirmed both by watching him throw the football and by Franklin telling us of success in another sports interest.
“I was playing ping pong, and I swing pretty hard.”
Darren Hellwege, Sports Commentator
The idea that Franklin, with 2,865 yards passing and 1,097 yards rushing last season, will be feeling better this year may have some opponents wishing they could take him on in ping pong instead of football.
DGB didn’t do anything spectacular on Thursday. But walking from the Mizzou Athletic Training Complex to the Kadlec practice fields, doing jumping jacks, or catching lob passes from coaches, dozens of pairs of eyes followed whatever he did yesterday. However, there was nothing to show he was different from any other freshman once he put the helmet on and went to work. He’s not listed on the depth chart, and asked where he is among the receivers, Coach Pinkel indicated he’s at the bottom, where every freshman begins.
That the experience of Elvis Fisher on the offensive line will be advantageous was recognized by his teammates as Fisher was one of four players named team captain. “I was honored to be chosen last year, and everyone saw me get hurt, and felt bad about it. I think they saw how hard I worked to come back, how much time and effort I put into it, so I’m just honored to be chosen team captain again and lead us into SEC play.”
I spent some time watching linemen in one-on-one drills, and with depth an issue on the defensive line it was encouraging to see a couple of impressive plays from Keric Lickerman and Clayton Echard. Both are redshirt freshman listed at defensive end. I also saw offensive lineman Max Copeland doing some strong blocking on a couple of occasions.
I was also impressed with the focus and drive of the linebackers as I watched them drill, but if I had Dave Steckel watching, I’d probably be pretty focused and driven, too. This factor cannot be mentioned often enough as Mizzou prepares for the challenge of life in the SEC, they have a great advantage in the coaching staff. Not only does Gary Pinkel have a bunch of outstanding coaches like Steckel working for him, but the consistency of having eight coaches with at least 11 seasons at the school on their resume is highly unusual, and a big, big plus for this team. I was asked this morning if there are changes in how practice was run with the move to the SEC. No way. This coaching staff knows exactly how to do things “The Mizzou Way,” and they’d be fools to try to change much at all.
We learned yesterday that two Tigers have left the team. George White, a backup defensive tackle, has left the program for unknown reasons. And offensive lineman Mark Hill, listed as the backup right guard, has battled injury problems and decided to retire.
There weren’t many surprises when the new depth chart came out on Thursday, but one interesting move is at the safety position, where Ian Simon has moved from free to strong and jumped all the way to second string behind Kenronte Walker. The redshirt freshman continues to have an impressive start to his playing career, and you’ll want to keep an eye on him. As such, remember that he’s now wearing No. 21. He was 11 last year.
Finally, speaking of guys to watch, the player we were all looking for at this time last year may be as important as any part of this club. It took a few days to get NCAA eligibility issues ironed out for Sheldon Richardson when fall camp opened in 2011. He was also a guy who played through injury last year, and off-season surgery kept him out of spring drills. He seems to be 100 percent now, and with his huge ability and the sharp lack of depth at the position, Sheldon may be the most irreplaceable Tiger there is. Healthy, he’s an all-SEC talent, and that’s saying something with some of the best linemen in the nation playing in the Deep South. Without Richardson, this defense takes a major drop.
There is one change in how things are done around Mizzou football that will be unfortunate for fans and make the work of we in the media a little more difficult. It was announced earlier in the week that we’d have the opportunity to visit with freshmen on the team only at Sunday’s photo day. So, as camp develops, as the team scrimmages three different times, talking with Green-Beckham and the rest of the Tiger newbies will be verboten. I know coaches don’t want to throw too many distractions in front of their youngest players at this point and many SEC teams have similar restrictions. But coaches also have to realize that the fans whose support makes this all possible depend upon us in the media to tell them what’s happening with the team and players they love, and they’ll be the ones missing out because for some reason it’s felt they’ll be unable to handle spending 10 minutes talking to the press. From Kirksville to Cape Girardeau, St. Louis to Shell Knob, Missourians will be wanting to hear from DGB and other Tiger freshmen about how camp’s going, what they think of playing for their state’s team, and so on, and the silence this policy leaves serves nobody well.
Fans are reminded to come out Sunday for the Tigers annual Fan Day. Gates will open at 3:45 for you to get autographs and meet your favorite Tiger coaches and players. This is a fun event that gives particularly young fans a chance to see the team up close, so bring the kids. It will be on the newly-decorated Faurot Field, a chance to get your first look at that. And what kid doesn’t love running into the end zone in a huge stadium like that, and dreaming of doing so with 75,000 fans watching? Watching the kids with MU caps run around on the field with stars in their eyes is my favorite part of this annual event.
And one other note, this year I’ll be serving once again as the Mizzou Insider on radio station 610 Sports in Kansas City with my buddy Bob Fescoe. So, for you readers in Kansas City, tune in Friday mornings as the Bulldog and I talk Tiger sports!