Loeffler's Link - Injury free ... for now

COLUMBIA --- Missouri coach Gary Pinkel met with the media
on Monday

It's Game Week, after all, as the Tigers host Murray State
on Saturday, 6 p.m.
, at Faurot Field.

Well, it's kind of a game, anyway.

Pinkel spoke for 32 minutes

and answered some good questions. He also answered some questions that weren't so good.

He spoke a lot of words, a lot of sentences.

But it was 18 words, two sentences, that were more important than any other.

"We don't have any injuries right now, which is good," said Pinkel, head coach of the Missouri Tigers. "Everybody is going to start who we expected to."

Certainly, last year's initial venture into the SEC had something to do with Missouri's 5-7 record. The SEC, if you weren't sure, has some fairly good teams.

But then it was compounded by the fact the Tigers had more injuries than an ER.

It started in the preseason and never stopped.

"Being healthy is so important," Pinkel said. "When you can't practice as a unit, when you have three or four players out on both sides, that makes it much more difficult.

"The best teams I've been around, you have to be healthy. If you can't practice, you can't get better. If you're not healthy, you can't practice, even if you play in the game.

"But you know what? All the injuries we had, it doesn't matter, you still have to win.

"There are no excuses."

True. But there are certainly reasons.

The defense had a rash of injuries, but one who stayed healthy was defensive back E.J. Gaines. Now a senior, Gaines was All-Big 12 as a sophomore and is a Preseason SEC Second-Team selection this season.

"We're definitely ready to get out there and hit some guys," Gaines said. "There are a lot of guys who are definitely going to prove some people wrong this year.

"We definitely still have a chip on our shoulders after last year."


But for now, let's put most of our focus on the offense, starting with senior quarterback James Franklin.

"The injuries he had last year ... when you think of all the quarterbacks I've coached, he had more on one body than I've seen in 25 years, combined," Pinkel said.

Shoulder, knee and a concussion would top the list.

"That's very difficult, especially with our offensive line problems," Pinkel said. "James was hit in the mouth a little bit, but certainly he gave a great, great effort.

"He's grown a lot, he's matured a lot. I think he's more determined; he wants to run this team, lead this team. He wants to win.

"The biggest thing is that everything slows down. He sees things, he anticipates. That's part of the mental maturity of playing the position."

The 6-2, 230-pound Franklin --- who played about half of last year's game minutes --- has thrown for 4,533 yards and 32 touchdowns in his career.

"Coming into college," Franklin said, "I really didn't know how to read defenses, I just threw to the guy who was open. That's something that's a huge improvement since I've been here."

The plan for Franklin is simple --- throw more, run less.

Most importantly, don't get hurt.

"He has to be smart with the decisions he makes; he has to protect himself and if you don't, you hurt the team," Pinkel said.

"In that position (as a quarterback), in the next level, the conference we're in, or the Big 12, you can't take those hits and survive. Eventually, you're going to get the wrong hit at the wrong time."

Said Franklin: "I definitely want to try and get down a little more."

He should have more protection. Last year, the Tigers limped through the season without five of their top-10 offensive linemen. This year, the unit is intact.

"That's the reality of this game," 6-3, 300-pound senior offensive lineman Max Copeland said. "When injuries happen, it sucks. When it doesn't happen, you just keep your head down and keep going.

"But this is nice, man, it's nice not playing musical chairs. We're ready to go. It's time to not pretending to play football, it's time to play the game.

"It's what we do."

Here's what you call saving the best for last.

As a sophomore, running back Henry Josey was fifth in the nation in rushing (1,163 yards) in 2011, before suffering a devastating knee injury in a home game against Texas.

Not only did Josey miss the rest of the 2011 season, he missed all of last season.


night, he'll be back.

"The first time he runs the ball

night," Pinkel said, "it's going to be a moment we've all been wait for. He's worked so hard to get back and it's taken a lot of people to make it happen."

Said Josey: "I can't wait."

Neither can the rest of the team, as the Tigers saw their seven-game bowl streak come to an end last season.

For a quick fix, at least for one week, it's time to welcome Murray State.

"We're really excited about getting it going," Pinkel said. "When you're coming off a disappointing year, I think your enthusiasm level goes up. It's heightened.

"These guys are committed to excellence."

So are the Oakland Raiders, that's their motto. Let's hope this committment is a bit more successful.

So far, it's off to a pain-free and good start.