September 9, 2008

Freshmen making an instant impact

Over the first two weeks of the season, the Missouri Tigers have played nine true freshmen.

Some of those, particularly Jones and Kemp, were expected coming into fall camp. Looking forward to next season, Smith, Gabbert and Hoch should have a chance to compete for starting positions, so those moves should probably have been anticipated as well. But as the season progresses toward the meat of the Tigers' schedule, have all the freshmen who are going to play already seen action?

"Probably in the next couple weeks," Gary Pinkel said the decisions on the freshmen would be made. "It's possible we might have one more player play."

Last season, freshman tailback
"A severe injury or two could do something like that," Pinkel said in reference to playing more freshmen.

In all likelihood, though, the cap will be ten freshmen at most. That would double the previous high Pinkel has played in any other season as Missouri's coach.

"We'd like to think that we're doing a pretty good job," Hoch said. "This summer, we really worked and got after it as a group. Everybody was almost here. We just came in prepared knowing that we all had the opportunity that we might play this year. I guess we really took it to heart and we all worked hard."

Of the nine freshmen who have seen action, five are listed as second-team players on the depth chart. With the return of Danario Alexander, both Egnew and Kemp will have to battle for playing time in a crowded receiving corps. But the most intriguing situation going forward is clearly Gabbert's.

Pinkel insisted after Saturday's game that the decision to play Gabbert was geared not toward next season, but this one. Chase Patton is still listed second on the depth chart and as the competition gets better, there is a question whether the Tigers would have enough snaps to go around for three quarterbacks. Gabbert says he does not know the plan for his playing time and Pinkel continues to say the quarterback rotation is a week to week issue.

"No, I'm just going out there every day and just competing and seeing where that takes me," he said. "I really go into practice the same way every time. You've just got to have a high level of focus and you just go in there and compete and get better every day because you never know if you're going to play or not."

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