11 December 2011

Behind the Stripes (CDT)

More from Sunday's bowl practice
by Dave Matter (CDT)
December 10th, 2011

A couple non-recruiting notes to pass along from Saturday's bowl practice ...

● Nothing new on the injury front. Freshman linebacker Kentrell Brothers, who broke his fibula and suffered ligament damage in his ankle during preseason camp, is participating in some drills and looks like he should be in the mix for the rotation next year. Will Ebner (ankle) is wearing a red pullover and doing some drills, as is cornerback Kip Edwards, who hurt his ankle working out during the week off after the Kansas game. (Ebner suffered a season-ending ankle injury the first game of the year and expects to return next fall for a fifth year.) Brad Madison (shoulder/knee) is sitting out full-contact drills but should be available for the Independence Bowl.

As for left tackle Elvis Fisher, the senior co-captain's status for 2012 is still uncertain. (He tore his patellar tendon in preseason camp and missed the season.) Pinkel said Fisher should hear from the NCAA in the next few weeks regarding a possible sixth year of eligibility, but Fisher has not decided whether he wants to come back regardless of the NCAA's ruling.

"We certainly want him to play," Pinkel said. "In his heart he's got to feel that it's the right thing for him. He's just waiting to hear back from the NCAA and hopefully we'll know in the next few weeks what that is. Physically, he's going to be fine. Every guy just has to wait for themselves, what's best for them. … We'd really like to have Elvis" return. "We haven't hard-core recruited him yet. That's coming."

● Pinkel said he was pleased to see voters for the Big 12 all-conference teams rewarded tailback Henry Josey with first-team recognition. Josey is still weeks away from undergoing a second surgery to repair damage suffered to his left knee in MU's Nov. 12 game against Texas. Pinkel continues to expect a full recovery, eventually.

"I'm sitting there five weeks ago saying we have this great player we're going to have for the next two years and then he has this," Pinkel said. "But he's doing really well." Surgeon "Pat Smith did a great job with him and he'll get better and better and better. He's such a high positive attitude player any way, if you've ever been around the guy. He's just a high energy, positive person. … He'll work through this. He'll need one more surgery after this. Then we'll see where we're at. It's about him competing through it, and he'll do that."

One of the most poignant storylines to come from Josey's injury is the role Ebner played in his teammate's time in the hospital. A couple players and family members have told me the senior linebacker never left Josey's side once he came out of surgery. The two played for rival Texas high schools Friendswood (Ebner) and Angelton (Josey) and became close once Josey arrived at MU in 2010. Pinkel recalled sitting in Josey's hospital room one day when his meal arrived and seeing Ebner fix it up with salt and pepper, ketchup and mustard.

"That was emotionally draining for me to spend 45 minutes in the hospital," Pinkel said, "let alone sitting there with him all night and caring for him and doing anything he could to make him feel comfortable, running to get the nurse if he needed it." … Ebner "was just serving the guy. 'He's my guy and I'm taking care of him.' We've got a real tight group of people around here, but that was a statement beyond statements for people caring about each other. It certainly says a tremendous amount about Will Ebner and the kind of person he is."

If there's such a thing as karma, Ebner's a guy who deserves an injury-free 2012 season.

● Pinkel expanded on the status of free safety Tavon Bolden, who has rejoined the team since his September dismissal for academic reasons. Bolden is practicing but will not play in the Independence Bowl. Pinkel expects him to go back on scholarship in January. Pinkel said Bolden's initial punishment was a "last, last resort."

"We have a system in place, and when you hit that spot, it doesn’t matter who you are," Pinkel said. 

"I've talked to people at a lot of places … and they wouldn't have done that. He's a starting safety, a guy that has potential to be a very high-level player. But in our program that's what we do. And that's what we had to do. Reluctantly, we had to do it. We didn't just say, 'Leave the university. See you later and good luck down the road.' We gave him another opportunity, an opporutnity to go out academically by himself and get committed to academics. If he did well, and we gave him parameters where his grade point average had to be and how many hours he had to pass, and if he hit that, we'd welcome him back to the program.

"Well, as far as communicating with his professors, he's doing well in every one of his classes and he'll hit the parameters. I think he's got one test he has to finish. It's certainly good for us to have him back in the program. But it's also … we gave a guy an opportunity to prove himself. Now he's going to graduate from college. I think it turns out to be a very positive thing. When we made the decision to do it, it was one of those things we didn't want to do, because from a team standpoint, he's a really, really good player. But bottom line, when I look at the staff, we've got to do what's right. And what's right was to make the choice we did. It's certainly going to end up to be right for him, because academically now he'll do very well. I think it was a win-win for everybody."

● Wisconsin running back Monte Ball is a long shot to win the Heisman Trophy Saturday night, but he'll have at least one supporter in Columbia. Backup redshirt freshman guard Nick Demien played with Ball at Timberland High School in Wentzville and keeps in touch with his former teammate regularly.

"We all knew he was a good player," Demien said. "We all knew he worked hard. It was just how far and how high that would take him. It doesn't necessarily surprise me. But at the same time, it's kind of amazing to see someone from your hometown make it all the way up to being up for the Heisman."
Ball, a year older than Demien, committed to Wisconsin the summer before his senior year, a couple months after attending Missouri's Black and Gold spring scrimmage.

"You know, sometimes I really wish I could have continued playing with him," Demien said. "But he made a really good choice for himself. Obviously, it's worked out well for him."

● 48, 49, 87, 97, 98, 114. Those are the 2011 national rankings for the passing offenses at Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, Vanderbilt and Kentucky, Missouri's new division mates in the SEC Eastern Division. Combine those plodding offenses with a secondary that returns three of four starters — four of five if you include nickelback Randy Ponder — and something tells me the Tigers might have a nice looking defensive backfield in 2012, especially if Bolden stays on the team. At cornerback, the Tigers return Edwards and All-Big 12 first-teamer E.J. Gaines. At safety, Bolden joins a crew that returns Kenronte Walker, Braylon Webb and Matt White. Walker was productive down the stretch after joining the starting lineup against Texas, and the staff has high hopes for Webb, who should return for the bowl game after tearing his meniscus late in the season. Walker's athleticism and burst to the ball has already stood out in the first couple practices.

● Speaking of defense, the Tigers have gotten a headstart on preparing for North Carolina with a few extra practice periods. From what he's seen so far of the Tar Heels' offense, strong safety Kenji Jackson said it's a style that suits the Tigers' strengths.

"Their offense is kind of equivalent to Texas," Jackson said. "They run a lot of double tight-end sets and use two running backs. They use the tight end to get you off balanced and they do a lot of play-action. It's nothing we haven't seen before. Having played Texas and Texas A&M, those pro-style type offenses, that's going to help us a lot. ... We like playing against the run, and when it's not so spread out, we do well against those type of offenses."

Yes, they do. The Tigers kept Texas out of the end zone and limited the Horns to just 247 yards and 13 first downs in a 17-5 win last month.

That's all for today. Check out Sunday's print edition for more on how Pinkel's staff has tweaked its bowl preparation this year and how one freshman hopes to capitalize on the extra reps.

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