August 26, 2008

Notebook: Tigers heal up for Illinois

No area of the 2008 Missouri Tigers has been more closely scrutinized than the offensive line. And no position on that offensive line has been looked at more closely than left tackle.

Kurtis Gregory opened camp as the starter there, but as Dain Wise struggled at guard, Gregory was moved back inside. That left redshirt freshman Elvis Fisher with the job of protecting Chase Daniel's blindside. There have been plenty of questions about Fisher and how ready he is for the job. But none of them come from the quarterback.

"At the left tackle position, you're going to get scrutinized way too much," Daniel said. "That's just how it is. You're protecting a right-handed quarterback's blindside. He's done a great job in practice. He hasn't shown me the wide-eyed look, even in scrimmages, whereas some of the freshmen have, or some of the other people who haven't played have so that makes me feel a lot better. He's just got to get warmed up."

Fisher is likely to be lined up against Illinois' Will Davis. Davis and the defensive front are considered to be one of the strengths of Illinois' team. It may be the best Missouri will face all season long.

"Right now we've got to prepare for them as if it will be the best we'll see," said center Tim Barnes a first-year starter himself. "I'm going to prepare for the best guy I will ever see and try to do my best. We know they're good. We've watched film on them and they're going to be good and it's going to be tough."

Most of what the Illini do offensively will come off of quarterback Juice Williams. While his passing is somewhat of a question mark (13 touchdowns, 12 interceptions last season), there is no doubt Williams can run. Athletically, he is one of the best in college football.

"I don't think you really can compare him to many quarterbacks we've played," said linebacker Sean Weatherspoon. "He's a guy that can definitely get out of the pocket and make some plays with his legs. He has one of the strongest arms in college football."

The Tigers didn't get the full Juice last year. After a helmet to helmet blow from Hardy Ricks, Williams watched the second half of Mizzou's 40-34 win. Backup quarterback Eddie McGee nearly brought the Illini back from a 37-13 third quarter deficit. Pinkel didn't use the change as an excuse for the comeback.

"Our defense plays our offense all the time, so they're used to us throwing the ball all the time. That quarterback just did a great job," Pinkel said. "I think that our defense, we were just not a very experienced defensive football team. I think some players came around. I think what was huge for us last year was Pig Brown, to have an impact player like that where a guy can go in and make impact plays, significant plays to change games. I think we have a couple guys maybe this year that have the potential to do that too in William Moore and Spoon and some other guys. Hopefully we'll play better defense from page one."

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