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Mizzou's Hall rejoins team, return date still unclear

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University of Tennessee Martin vs University of Missouri football

Will Missouri wide receiver Emanuel Hall return this week and give the Tigers' passing game the jolt it needs? Photo by David Carson, dcarson@post-dispatch.com

COLUMBIA, MO. • Wide receiver Emanuel Hall returned to Columbia on Sunday after attending his father’s funeral in Tennessee and took part in Tuesday’s practice, though he was limited during the two-hour morning session.

The senior wideout is still nursing a groin injury, but he was dressed in full pads and wearing a red jersey, meaning he was limited in contact drills. Hall hasn’t played since Missouri’s Sept. 22 game against Georgia and hasn’t caught a pass since MU’s win at Purdue on Sept. 15. He’s not on the depth chart for Saturday’s game against No. 12 Kentucky, but Odom was pleased with Hall’s progress.

“He did a little bit today but was limited,” Odom said. “It was better and looked better that it has the last five weeks or however long it’s been. I think we’re getting close. After he ran and did some things he said he felt really good. We’ll do a little bit more tomorrow and then see where we get tomorrow and Thursday and see how close we are for this week.”

Hall was not available for interviews. Hall’s father, Daton Hall, died Oct. 11, two days before the Tigers played at Alabama. His funeral was Saturday in Memphis.

For now, Missouri’s staff isn’t setting a strict timetable for Hall’s return. Tigers coach Barry Odom has acknowledged that Hall would be eligible for a redshirt year but has said Hall wants to return this season. Otherwise, the team is giving Hall space to recover from a grueling few weeks.

“My number one job when you have a real relationship with a guy is to make sure they have all the support system in place that they need,” Odom said. “There’s no way in the world I can tell Emanuel what he’s going through. I don’t know. I haven’t walked one day in his shoes. I just want to help him and support him. In this time of his life I want him to know any time, day or night, he wants to talk or not talk there’s a lot of people here that care about him.”

“You have to be really sensitive what people need in those situations and what you try to do is make sure he’s supported and knows you’re as available as he needs you to be,” receivers coach A.J. Ofodile added. “If that means he needs time by himself or time away, then you honor that. Then if he needs something, you’re there. That’s kind of the role I try to play, and I think that’s important to make sure you do. I think sometimes you make the mistake of taking what you need in the situation and impressing that on someone else, and I wanted to be really, really careful to do what he needed in the situation.”

Senior receiver Nate Brown, also recovering from a groin injury, took part in Tuesday’s practice and remained on the depth chart as a backup. He hasn’t played since the Georgia game. Odom said he looked better Tuesday than he has since first suffering the injury last month.

TARGET PRACTICE

Two more Missouri players were ejected from Saturday’s win over Memphis on targeting penalties, raising MU’s number of targeting flags to four this season. This time, both penalties came on blocks, not tackles. Cornerback Adam Sparks was blocking on the punt return team and leveled a Memphis player behind the play. The collision happened in the final minute of the first half, meaning Sparks had to sit out the rest of the game but can return for the start of Saturday’s game against Kentucky. Tight end Daniel Parker Jr. was flagged for targeting in the second half while blocking on a quarterback scramble by Micah Wilson. Parker had to leave the game and can’t play again until the second half against Kentucky.

Odom said both penalized blocks were “tough to watch,” but the staff has decided to change the way they coach certain blocking techniques to avoid future penalties.

“On almost any play,” Odom said, “if there’s any contact … if the crowd gives an ooh or an ahhhh, you’re probably going to get a flag.”

Borrowing media relations staffer Shawn Davis as visual aid, Odom showed reporters how the staff is changing the way it teaches open-field blocks in the kicking game. Instead of striking the opponent in the classic target area, between the shoulders and thighs, blockers will lift their arms and absorb contact with their torso, like they’re taking a charge in basketball, Odom said.

“Both were exceptional calls from the officiating crew and great teaching lessons for our football team,” Odom said.

Linebackers Brandon Lee and Terez Hall have also been flagged for targeting in games earlier this season.

FLAG DAY

Overall, the Tigers were flagged a season-high 12 times for 122 yards in Saturday’s win. That’s the most penalties for Mizzou since a 13-flag game against Middle Tennessee in 2016. It’s the most yards the Tigers have been penalized since the 2007 Armageddon at Arrowhead win over Kansas, when Mizzou committed 14 penalties for 141 yards.

Only two SEC teams have been penalized for more yards in a game than Mizzou’s 122 yards on Saturday: Ole Miss had 167 yards in penalties against LSU, and Mississippi State had 139 yards in penalties against Kentucky.

Six of MU’s 12 penalties came on defense, three on offense and three on special teams.

Defensive coordinator Ryan Walters wasn’t overly concerned about his unit’s flag fest.

“The frustrating ones are the ones that extend drives,” he said. “I think 20 of the points they scored were the result of penalties on those drives. The third downs we’ve really got to be tuned into what’s going on.”

Defensive end Tre Williams extended a Memphis drive with a personal foul on third down. The drive ended with a field goal. Later, defensive tackle Jordan Elliott jumped offsides on a fourth-down conversion, leading Memphis to make a shorter field goal.

For the season, Mizzou is ninth in the SEC in penalties per game (6.9) and 10th in penalty yardage per game (62.7).

“If you have a penalty in practice then you’re going to do the same thing Saturday,” Odom said. “That doesn’t change. We got a little bit of awareness training that’s gone into play for guys that commit penalties. Hopefully that makes them aware not to do it again.”

Awareness training?

“That’s like extra running,” he said. “It’s code word for kicking their tail.”

SECONDARY MOVES

Missouri's defensive depth chart is catching up. Cornerback Christian Holmes and free safety Tyree Gillespie have moved into starter's roles on the latest depth chart, though both started each of the last two games against Alabama and Memphis. Walters continues to give more snaps to sophomore safeties Gillespie and Joshuah Bledsoe along with starting strong safety Cam Hilton and backup free safety Khalil Oliver. All four play on special teams, so Walters is steadily rotating them on defense to keep their legs fresh for their various roles. 

Gillespie is starting to translate his elite speed into production. He's made nine tackles the last two game with a breakup and a quarterback hurry. There's not another player on the defense as fast as the sophomore from Ocala, Fla., Walters said.

"He’s fast, man," he said. "At 215 (pounds), that’s impressive."

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