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Monday, October 16, 2017

Newcomers shine in camp

Freshmen have caught the eyes of coaches, who might change the way they use first-year players.

Freshman receiver Dorial Green-Beckham lines up for a drill at summer practice. Green-Beckham has been getting looks at the Y-position, typically where tight ends line up.

Shannon Elliott/Senior Staff Photographer

Freshman guard Evan Boehm goes through a blocking drill at practice. Coaches say Boehm has the size and maturity to play in his first year.

Shannon Elliott/Senior Staff Photographer

Freshman running back Russell Hansbrough runs through a drill during a practice. Hansbrough broke out at camp after returning from an injury that sidelined him at the start of the summer.

Shannon Elliott/Senior Staff Photographer

Aug. 21, 2012


That’s how many snaps were taken by the true freshmen of the Missouri football team last season.

Based on performances during fall camp during the past few weeks, that won’t be the case this coming season, the first in the mighty Southeastern Conference.

Newcomers left guard Evan Boehm, Harold Brantley, wide receiver Levi Copelin, tight end Sean Culkin, wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, running back Russell Hansbrough, tight end Brandon Holifield and linebacker Michael Scherer all saw time with either the first or second units over the summer and have gotten rave reviews from the coaching staff.

So, what has allowed these rookies to be so effective so early in their college careers?

Coaches say it has much to do with their abilities to adjust to the pace of the college level.

“Any time you're a freshman, the most difficult thing is to not be thinking out there,” coach Gary Pinkel said. “You're out there, you've got to know what your formation is, what the play is, the defense (that's being played), so generally you don't play your speed. I remember J-Mac (Philadelphia Eagles’ Jeremy Maclin) — we were constantly on him to play 4.3. Don't play 4.6 — play 4.3. It's typical of young guys, so that's what we're trying to get those guys to understand."

Offensive coordinator David Yost echoed Pinkel’s sentiment, saying the freshmen skill position players on offense have responded well to “heavy install” days, in which large portions of the playbook are introduced.

Typically freshmen’s 40-yard dash times, as Pinkel referenced, slow by an entire second during these heavy install days, but this batch of newcomers has grasped assignments quickly, Yost said.

One freshman who has done a particularly good job of this is Green-Beckham, the nation’s consensus top recruit at the wide receiver position who has drawn comparisons to NFL stars Andre Johnson and Calvin Johnson, Yost said.

Green-Beckham lined up on the outside throughout his illustrious high school career, but after injuries earlier this week, Yost moved him inside to the Y-position, where tight ends commonly play.

“It’s new, but what he’s done is he’s worked hard to learn it,” Yost said. “And that’s a big thing.”

Time at the Y-spot would be a learning opportunity for Green-Beckham, Yost said.

“We thought two-fold it was a chance for him to get another spot, so it just helps his education in the offense and understanding of it,” Yost said. “But secondly, our Y-position has always been a spot that’s been pretty easy for us to get the ball to.”

Yost also referenced Green-Beckham’s versatility as a benefit.

“He’s inside, he’s outside, he’s all over the place,” Yost said. “He gives you a lot of variances to be able to throw the ball to him and use him to the best of his abilities.”

Green-Beckham progressed throughout camp, leading all receivers with six catches for 68 yards during the Tigers’ second scrimmage Thursday morning.

Though he has only seen a handful of reps with the starting unit, Green-Beckham is expected to see immediate playing time. Coaches have indicated Culkin, who had stood out when filling in for then-injured junior tight end Eric Waters before suffering an injury himself, could be joining him out wide. Pinkel said he hopes Culkin will return within the next 2 to 3 weeks and expects him to contribute immediately.

Boehm, a four-star recruit who coaches say has the size and savvy to play immediately, has been battling Max Copeland for a starting guard spot while Brantley, Copelin, Holifield and Scherer all have made appearances on the second-team units, thanks in part to injuries to upperclassmen. All could potentially see the field come September.

During the past week of camp, yet another true freshman has emerged as a potential contributor: running back Russell Hansbrough.

“Little Josey,” as fellow teammate Jared McGriff-Culber calls him, moved from sixth to third on the depth chart at running back after outstanding play in his first few practices back from an injury.

Pinkel and Yost have each said they were hoping a third back would earn his way into the rotation, and it appears Hansbrough has.

“He’s looking great," said Henry Josey, one of the nation’s leading rushers before he suffered the season-ending knee injury that will probably sideline him for 2012. "He does remind me of myself a lot with the way he moves, and I like that. He’s got it. He’s going to be great while he’s here. The sky is the limit for him.”

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