Tag Archives: Kenji Jackson

Tigers looking to protect “The Zou”

Missouri officials are expecting about 70,000 people at "The Zou" this Saturday.

Missouri officials are expecting about 70,000 people at "The Zou" this Saturday.

Columbia, Missouri may not be home to a real zoo with wild animals, but this Saturday it will be home to a different kind of zoo: “The Zou.”

Technically, Missouri’s Faurot Field has been nicknamed “The Zou” since 2003, but this year the athletic department has put a greater emphasis on getting that nickname more exposure.  Just this week, “The Zou” was added to the each side of the stadium and it is boldly emblazoned on the back of the new scoreboard.  Around campus it seems the name is slowly catching on, much to the delight of the players.

“I like calling it The Zou,” sophomore safety Kenji Jackson said.  “It’s got some swagger to it.”

Teammate Danario Alexander agrees.

“The Zou is a perfect name for it,” Alexander said.  “It’s the Zou.  We want to make it crazy in that place, make it a tough place to play.”

Meanwhile, Sean Weatherspoon attributes the name to the way the Tigers have played there lately.  “We’ve got some wild and crazy animals that play in the Zou.  We’ve done a great job protecting home and I want to keep that going.”

If Missouri does keep it going, it is going to take a strong effort against an underrated Bowling Green team.

Missouri is 30-7 at home since nicknaming Faurot Field “The Zou,” in 2003.  Better yet, they have gone 17-2 there in the last three seasons.  However, that does not mean Bowling Green is going down without a fight.

Falcons’ senior quarterback Tyler Sheehan, who threw for 339 yards and two touchdowns in his team’s week one victory is expressing no shortage of confidence as he prepares to face an improved Mizzou defense.

“We’re expecting big things from us (this week),” Sheehan said when asked what he expects when taking on the 25th ranked Tigers.  “We have a good shot at getting some attention from some people.”

Gary Pinkel is among those who are already giving full attention to Sheehan and the Falcons.  Pinkel is 0-2 at Mizzou when facing Bowling Green.  Although the Tigers last loss to Bowling Green was back in 2002, Pinkel is determined it doesn’t happen to this year’s team.

“Every player has things they can do to improve,” Pinkel said.  “[Bowling Green] is a good football team.”

So while fans continue to scoop up the last remaining tickets for this week’s game, they could be in for a surprise if they are expecting a total blowout.  Bowling Green is 11-8 against major conference opponents since 2001.  And oh yeah, the last time the Falcons played a team ranked 25th in the country?  They beat Pittsburgh 27-17 just last season.

Workers at MU's Faurot Field were already rolling out the temporary general admission bleachers last week.

Workers at MU's Faurot Field were already rolling out the temporary general admission bleachers last week.

Missouri is the favorite in Saturday’s contest and rightfully so, but no matter how rowdy “The Zou” gets, don’t expect a complete Tiger feeding frenzy.  However, if last Saturday’s performance against Illinois is truly an indication of how good this team is, the Tigers will once again send Tiger fans home happy.

As defensive tackle Jaron Baston put it,  “This is a program here to stay,” he said.  “As long as they come out and support us, I think we’ll make them pretty happy.”

-MG

Note: At the request of some of our readers, I have put up some final scoreboard pictures below.  After this, you’ll have to come see it person.

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Scrimmage wrap-up

Thursday afternoon’s scrimmage concluded training camp for the 2009 Missouri Tigers.

Mizzou football’s training camp officially ended today as the Tigers played in their final scrimmage of the summer.  With camp now over, the Tigers will have Friday off before turning all of their attention toward game-planning for Illinois.  If you ask senior captain Sean Weatherspoon, however, he would confess that his mind has been focused on the opener in St. Louis for months.

“Coach may say that we don’t officially put 100-percent of our attention toward Illinois until this weekend, but trust me, I’ve been thinking about the Illini every time I step onto the field,” Weatherspoon said.  “Whenever I stare across the line of scrimmage, all I can see is orange.”

Sean Weatherspoon already has the Illinois game on his mind.

Sean Weatherspoon already has the Illinois game on his mind.

Spoon certainly looked like he was visualizing an orange-clad offense during Thursday’s scrimmage as he delivered many punishing hits with aid from his recently upgraded physique.  Spoon wasn’t the only Tiger that shined on defense, however.  Rather, the entire defensive unit coalesced brilliantly and outplayed the offense throughout the entire day.  With strong pressure up front, the defense was able to force the Missouri quarterbacks out of the pocket and into difficult throws, much to the delight of a hungry secondary.

“The [defensive line] is a great asset to our team,” sophomore safety Kenji Jackson said.  “They put pressure on the quarterback so they rush throws so we DB’s can do our job and pick him off and make big hits.”

As a result, two passes were intercepted, one by Hardy Ricks and the other by freshman Andrew Wilson.  Much of the quarterback pressure should be credited to Jacquies Smith, who had an excellent day in picking up a sack and recording multiple tackles for a loss.

Blaine Gabbert looked solid once again in the scrimmage and has proven this off-season that he has the ability to be an elite quarterback.  Even though there was a heavy pass rush on Gabbert throughout the day, he demonstrated that he has the ability to make quick decisions and use his feet when necessary.  Gabbert showed off his 4.5 speed with a number of scurries around the hashes.  He rushed 5 times for 15 yards in the scrimmage.  While he never broke a tremendously long run, he did an excellent job of evading defenders in the backfield and gaining enough yards to pick up first downs.

“Running with the ball is not something that I’m going to force too often,” Gabbert said. “But, whenever I find seams and do not see exactly what I want in coverage, then I am definitely going to try to pick up some yards on the ground.”

Mizzou’s receivers are talented and speedy enough to get open in just about any coverage, but if they aren’t open, Gabbert running should be a present danger on offense.

Missouri certainly has some work to do in preparation for Illinois, but overall, the mood after the scrimmage was positive.

“Overall, really good things out there,” Gary Pinkel said.

Notes

  • When asked which young player impressed him most this off-season, senior wide receiver Danario Alexander said that De’Vion Moore really played well.  Moore, who is the No.2 running back behind Derrick Washington, won the most improved offensive player award in the spring and will have a major role in both the air and ground attack this season.
  • Blaine Dalton, who has been in the running to be the No. 2 quarterback, played terribly in the final scrimmage.  Dalton looked flustered in each of his series and finished 5-15 for 18 yards with an interception.  Jimmy Costello seems to have solidified himself as Blaine Gabbert’s backup.

    Linebacker Will Ebner was shaken up during the scrimmage.

    Linebacker Will Ebner was shaken up during the scrimmage.

  • RS Freshman defensive end Aldon Smith, who was mentioned as being “unblockable” this spring, took around five reps as a defensive tackle during the scrimmage.  This could be a sign that the Tiger coaching staff is experimenting with innovative ways to get Smith on the field as much as possible, especially on passing downs.  Opposing offenses should be concerned if the Tigers are finding alternative methods to bolster their already stout defensive line.
  • The Missouri punting controversy seemed to have cleared up a little during the scrimmage.  Sophomore Matt Grabner outperformed senior Jake Harry during the practice as each one took reps kicking the football during punting situations.  While most of Harry’s punts were low and spun awkwardly, Grabner’s boots consistently hit the roof inside Dan Divine Pavilion.
  • True freshman receivers T.J. Moe and L’Damian Washington were on the field quite a bit throughout the day.  Still no word on whether they will see the field this season.  I’d put money on the fact that Moe sees time this year.
  • Sophomore tackle Dan Hoch was held out of the scrimmage while still nursing his knee injury.  However, he moved well while working one-on-one with a coach on the sideline.
  • Linebacker Will Ebner was temporarily shaken up during the scrimmage, but has suffered no major injury.

-PF

Columns exclusive: Q&A with Kenji Jackson

In the wake of spring practice and the NFL draft, The Columns caught up with Missouri safety Kenji Jackson to discuss Mizzou football, the draft, and the rising star’s future.

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Kenji Jackson (13) will look to emerge as a leader for the young Tiger defense in 2009.

 The Columns: Now that the NFL draft is over, what was it like to see so many of your former teammates drafted?

JacksonIt’s really exciting to see so many of my former teammates get drafted to the NFL. If I recall, we had about 8 or 9 guys get a shot so it just goes to show what kind of players we have here at Mizzou. 

 

The Columns: Especially what are you thoughts on Willy Mo? How much has he helped your development and what have you learned from him? 

6940941William Moore is like a big brother to me. Coming in as a true freshman, he quickly took me under his wing and showed me and told me what it would take to be the best. When playing safety, it’s easy to dwell on the mistakes you make, when really you have to have a short term memory – good play or bad play.

 

The Columns: How is your role going to change this coming year as opposed to last season?

6940942Opposed to last year, this year my role will consist of more of a leadership role. Last year I was able to contribute and make plays with a defense full of seniors and now this year I will have to produce more at a high level and be consistent with my abilty to make plays. Hopefully my hard work and investments into our team will allow some of the younger guys to jump on board and blossom into the real players that they are.

 

The Columns: How will the 2009 Missouri defense be different from last year’s?

6940943 ‘Speed Kills’ is a phrase that is often said in the football now a days. This year’s defense will be faster and more menacing than last year’s. We have 11 guys that can sense the ball like a shark can sense blood in water, and when we get there you better believe there will be a frenzy. Last year’s D was a very talented group, but we are striving to be better without a doubt.

 

"We have 11 guys who can sense the ball like

"We have 11 guys who can sense the ball like a shark can sense blood in water," said Jackson who recorded two interceptions as a true freshman a year ago. (stltoday.com photo)

 The Columns: What are your expectations for this year’s team?

6940944I expect this years team to have a work ethic that will be noticeable. People expect this to be a ‘rebuilding year’ for the Tigers, but we have a different plan.

 

The Columns: William Moore set a school record with eight interceptions in one season and recorded 11 over the course of his career.  Any chance you’ll break those marks by the time you’re done at Mizzou?

6940945 Willy Mo is one of the best safeties to ever come through Mizzou. One of my personal goals is to be the best safety to have ever played at Mizzou. I got the chance to learn from the best, so of course my goal is to beat his records.

 

The Columns: As a true freshman you received as much playing time as anyone on the team.  How valuable was that experience and how much will that help you this year?

6940946 Being able to play as a true freshman gave me the opportunity to answer all the questions I asked myself coming into playing college football. Were the guys going to be big? Fast? Were they really as advertised? I could now answer yes to all of those questions. Now I know I have to work harder than I ever have before so I can be sure to be ready for whatever comes my way. I know how the speed of the game is, so now I can hone in on the basic skills and be better. My goal is to play better than I did last year, not worse.

 

The Columns: Missouri has produced some good safeties in recent years.  Where do you see yourself in five years?

6940947If the Lord says the same, in five years I see myself playing in the NFL. Maybe re-uniting with Willy Mo somehow (laughs).

 

 

– MG

 

Defense looks good in annual spring game

 

The first team defense, which sported the gold jerseys, had more to celebrate than the black squad.  (Photo courtesy Nick King/Columbia Tribune)

The first team defense, which sported the gold jerseys, had more to celebrate than the black squad. (Photo courtesy Nick King/Columbia Tribune)

Thoughts on Saturday’s Black and Gold game

Offense:

Blaine Gabbert:

  Overall, not a very impressive showing from the offense on Saturday.  There was only one touchdown scored in the entire game and that came on a one yard run set up by a Blaine Dalton fumble.  Blaine Gabbert is built like an NFL quarterback but he did not play like one on Saturday.  He had a couple of nice short throws, but perhaps garnered the most wows from the crowd on a back-pedaling 55 yard incompletion.  I don’t think Chase Daniel could throw the ball 55 yards period.  The fact that Gabbert can do it on the move is impressive, however it’s pointless if the pass falls incomplete.  Gabbert’s most discouraging play of the day came early in the game when he was intercepted by Kip Edwards.  Gabbert stared down his receiver on an out route and Edwards easily stepped in front of it.  I think Mizzou fans may soon realize that while Gabbert has potential, they may have taken Chase Daniel for granted.

   “When the pick happened…you can’t really do anything about that,” Gabbert said after the game.  “I’ve just got to bring the ball downhill a little more.  Overall, we did fine.”

  I’d say it’s clear Gabbert trusts his arm, which when you’re as inexperienced as he is, can be good and bad sometimes.  He also had a few impressive runs, including about a 25 yarder down the sideline. He seems to be able to move really well given his size.  On the day, Gabbert’s stat line read: 9-17 passing for 93 yards and one interception.

Other Offensive Notes

  The most impressive player on the day offensively, was Jerrell Jackson.  Working in a receiving corps that was missing Danario Alexander and Jared Perry, Jackson had several nice catches and was even given the ball on a Maclin-esque running play.  Afterward, Jackson had no shortage of confidence, despite the offense’s poor showing.

  “That was one of our down days on offense, but we’re going to scorch every defense we play,” Jackson said.

Elsewhere… Derrick Washington looked good in limited playing time…  De’Vion Moore looked as quick as ever… Rolandis Woodland, who played with the second team, had several drops… Hard to tell how well the O-line and D-line were in a scrimmage that doesn’t allow quarterback contact, but the offensive line seemed to be holding its own… Jimmy Costello, who Josh Tatum tells me is suffering from shoulder pain, was not impressive leading the second team offense.  The second team offense did not record a single first down against the starting D.  Costello also seemed to have a knack at leading his receivers into big hits, as several times his intended receivers were lit up by an aggressive Mizzou secondary.

 

It won't be exactly easy for Missouri to replace playmakers such as Jeremy Maclin and Chase Coffman

It won't be an easy task for Missouri to replace playmakers such as Jeremy Maclin and Chase Coffman

Defense:

   Logic says that there is little reason to be optimistic about this year’s defensive unit.  Last year the Missouri defense gave upon only two fewer points to Oklahoma than our basketball team did (62 vs. 64 respectively), and they lose a lot of the unit’s best players from a year ago.  However, on Saturday the defense was very impressive.  They looked aggressive, fast, and physical.  Call me optimistic, but I am buying into the hype these young guys have quietly been receiving.  From Kip Edwards to Jerrell Harrison to Kenji Jackson, I think there is reason to believe the secondary will be improved.  (Not hard to do I guess).  I understand that replacing William Moore will be difficult, but in general, the 2009 defense will have more speed and athleticism than last year’s unit.

   Tatum told me earlier today that head coach Gary Pinkel has been telling the team that they are the hardest working and fastest team he has ever coached. – Always good to have team speed.

The most impressive player on defense goes to Kenji Jackson.  The sophomore safety was all over the field making hits.  Several times he laid out receivers drawing “oohs,” from the crowd.

  As for the D-line, like I said it’s hard to tell when they’re not allowed to hit the quarterback, but physically Brian Coulter, Jacquies Smith, and Aldon Smith appeared noticeably bigger than a year ago.  Call me an optimist, but I think the defense might be pretty good this year.

 

Kenji Jackson (13), who recorded two interceptions as a true freshman, made some huge hits on Saturday.

Kenji Jackson (13), who recorded two interceptions as a true freshman a year ago, made some huge hits on Saturday.

 Special Teams:

   This is an area where Mizzou fans are going to soon realize just how great Jeff Wolfert really was.  Everyone knows Wolfert has the title of being the most accurate kicker in Division One football history, but I think few really realized what a feat that was.  Tanner Mills, Missouri’s number one kicker at the moment, struggled.  He connected on his first field goal but missed two others.  He seemed to be striking the ball well, but when the ball doesn’t go through the two yellow posts it doesn’t really matter how well you strike it.

   As for punter Jake Harry, he was also had a pretty dismal showing.  One of his four punts traveled a total of 19 yards and he had another that went 27.  That is unacceptable. 

  In the return game, Missouri looked to be trying several options to replace Maclin.  Edwards, Jackson, and Munir Prince all saw time returning punts, but special teams is a non-contact activity in the spring game as well.  The fastest of those three is Prince, who was supposedly Notre Dame’s fastest player when he was there.  However, he struggled to field punts and Tatum told me Prince routinely struggles catching the ball.  With a 40 time sub 4.5, Edwards seems to be a good choice, however he did not look nearly that fast on his interception return.

Other Thoughts:

   Overall, the play on the field seemed to match the weather outside – sloppy… There was a nice ceremony for the 2008 seniors, Maclin, and Aaron O’Neal’s father, Lonnie at halftime…  I would say that the 2009 Missouri football team will be worse than last year on offense, better on defense, and worse on special teams.  However, with the young talent and speed that this team has, I think they will still compete for the Big 12 North title.

   They remind me a lot of this past year’s basketball team.  They are young, relatively unknown, but have the potential to do big things if everything were to unfold in the best-case scenario.

-MG