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Mizzou first practice, Odom

Missouri football coach Barry Odom talks to his team at the start of preseason practice on Aug. 2. (Photo by Zach Bland, courtesy of Mizzou Athletics)

COLUMBIA, MO. — Twenty-nine days.

That was Barry  Odom’s final message to his team after Missouri wrapped up its first preseason practice on Friday. The Tigers have four weeks and a day until their season opener at Wyoming. That’s not much time in the context of all the work that’s put into preparation for a college football season. After two hours and 20 minutes in the morning sun on their newly installed practice fields, the Tigers are one step closer to the 2019 season — with plenty of work ahead in the coming weeks.

“Talk to any coach in America and they will be excited about day one,” Odom told a large gathering of reporters on hand for Mizzou’s first preseason practice. “And I am, too. I'll join that crowd. I really like this team on the work that they've done since our bowl game was over last year. Every year is different. Every team is different. … We've got a lot of work to do and a short time to do it. In 29 days we’ll be playing real ball.”

With wide-open access to camp this August, we’re marking the next four weeks down as real ball in our corner of the Internet, so look for some post-practice notes and quotes every day the Tigers have media access.

We’ll start with a daily fixture …

INJURY UPDATE

The Tigers opened camp without major health concerns for players expected to play significant roles. Wideout Khmari Thompson (right knee) and cornerback Ish Burdine (right shoulder) were in street clothes and held out of all drills. Burdine has undergone surgery and will be out extensively. Thompson could return before the end of camp, Odom said. Linebacker Jamie Pettway (right knee) was in uniform but sat out most drills while wearing a red jersey.

During practice, defensive end Trajan Jeffcoat left the field with a sprained elbow and is considered day to day, the team confirmed. He’s in position to earn a starting job at a critical position.

After missing all full-contact drills in the spring, tight end Albert Okwuegbunam (broken scapula) took part in every period on Friday. Offensive coordinator Derek Dooley described the junior as “rusty.”

“He didn't go through spring practice and even in the summer he was kind of trying to get back to where he was a year ago from now,” Dooley said. “So he's still a work in progress. We're knocking the rust off, but it's good to have him back.”

Freshman safety Jalani Williams (broken foot) also returned to action for all drills on Friday after undergoing surgery in the spring.

TRE WILLIAMS RETURNS

Junior defensive end Tre Williams took part in his first practice since the 2018 regular season after being reinstated to the team earlier this week. Williams was suspended while his criminal case for last December’s assault charge worked its way through the legal system. Williams’ initial felony charge was reduced to a misdemeanor, clearing his path to rejoin the team for camp. He pleaded guilty last month. 

It was nearly three years ago when Odom publicly instituted his "zero tolerance" policy for players accused of hitting a woman. When former receiver Keyon Dilosa was arrested for allegedly striking a woman with a closed fist in December 2016, he was quickly dismissed from the team. “There’s no gray area,” Odom said at the time.

“That's still our stance,” Odom said Friday. “If you look throughout the things that Tre did for the last eight months, he got a misdemeanor piece disturbance charge through the court of law. I've learned you get all the information, you get all the facts and then you make an informed decision. Through the process of the last eight months or however long it's been, he went through with the proceedings in court. I feel very strongly about how we handled this case and how we’ve handled every one that we've had since I’ve been the head coach.”

Williams, a starter in the first six games last year before he lost his job to Akial Byers, worked with the reserve units during drills on Friday and will have to compete with first-teamers Chris Turner and Jeffcoat, plus backups Jatorian Hansford, Franklin Agbasimere and Sci Martin.

QB SHUFFLE

There’s no mystery about Mizzou’s starting quarterback, though Kelly Bryant tried going incognito with reporters Friday, choosing to wear his visored helmet during his post-practice media session. Meanwhile, the backup competition will continue through camp. One contender out of the mix is TCU transfer Shawn Robinson. The NCAA denied his waiver request to play immediately this season, Odom said after practice. That leaves Taylor Powell, Lindsey Scott Jr. and freshman Connor Bazelak as available QBs behind Bryant.

On Robinson’s situation, Odom said, “His waiver was denied. You don’t really get a reason on why it was passed or not. This one was denied. There are a bunch of them in the world of college football right now that for whatever reason got accepted, and then there are some that didn’t. We’ll live with it.”

Odom wasn’t sure if there will be a formal appeal.

“We may be out of appeals. I have to check,” he said. “I’m completely supportive of Shawn and what his family want to do. If they want to continue to pursue it, I’m all for that. If they are good with what we got, then we’ll live with that, too.”

Bazelak, the wishbone quarterback from Dayton, Ohio, is just as big as advertised, at 6-3 and 205 pounds with an arm that’s possibly stronger than most figured. His fastball won’t be mistaken for Drew Lock’s anytime soon, but he whistled in some heaters to his targets during multiple sessions. Bye bye, wishbone.

As for Bryant, senior slot receiver Johnathon Johnson has now had nearly seven months to get acclimated to Bryant’s delivery. It’s been a major transition from the Lock years, but …

“Kelly’s got a sneaky arm,” Johnson said. “You think because he releases the ball with his velocity that he doesn’t have a big arm, but if you go to sleep on him he’s going to make you pay. … I wouldn’t say it’s easier to catch because he throws with a different kind of spin on the ball. It’s not like that thump that Drew had. It’s more of a touch pass.”

LIGHT LOAD IN BACKFIELD

Had Dooley been taking a swig of water he might have busted a spit take when asked about Mizzou’s “great depth” at running back.

“Great depth? Huh,” he said. “Great is a relative term. We lost (Damarea) Crockett. So we got the two guys that are playing, (Larry) Rountree and (Tyler) Badie, so we really aren't deep. We’ve got numbers. And that's really the challenge is can we develop that? I mean that. We know very Larry can play. We know Tyler can fly. But it's hard to go through a year with just two guys. It really is.”

That tailback depth will be pivotal in camp. Can Simi Bakare establish himself as a legitimate No. 3 option? What about freshman Anthony Watkins? Dawson Downing is still there, too.  

Speaking of the word “great,” that’s not how Rountree would describe his 2018 season that produced 1,216 rushing yards, third-most by a Mizzou running back in team history. He’s hardly satisfied.

“I wouldn’t say I had a great season,” he said. “I had a good season. Those great seasons are 2,000 yards, 1,500 yards, 16,00 yards.”

TIGER TALES

Freshman Niko Hea (CBC) is in the back of the line at the tight end position but has some sticky hands over the middle. … Freshman Devin Nicholson is rangy for an inside linebacker at 6-3, 215. … Freshman Stacy Brown is a rookie the staff loved during the recruiting process and envisioned as a hybrid defender who can play the outside linebacker/safety position where Ronnell Perkins is the current starter. He could use some bulk on his bones but at 6-2, 190 has the frame to cover a lot of ground. … The punting competition appears wide open. Kicker Tucker McCann, currently listed No. 1 at punter, is taking snaps at punter along with a crowd of preferred walk-on freshmen: Aaron Rodriguez, Parker Willis and Logan Brock. … Odom added a wealth of experience when he hired new offensive analyst Eugene Chung, a former NFL offensive lineman who coached the O-line position for the Chiefs and Eagles for the previous 10 years. … New cornerbacks coach David Gibbs is all about forcing takeaways, and through one day of practice, he’s seeing results. Jarvis Ware, trying to put heat on returning starters DeMarkus Acy and Christian Holmes, punched a ball loose from a receiver and gobbled it up for a takeaway. … If I’m an SEC defender this season there’s no scarier sight than 340-pound left guard Larry Borom barreling toward me on a sweep or a screen. He should come with his own zip code.

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