The Missouri Tigers opened preparation for the December 26th Independence Bowl with a two-hour workout in shorts and helmets on Friday morning. It is the first of six practices the team will hold in Columbia prior to leaving for Shreveport, LA and the game on December 21st.
Gary Pinkel said the team has one less practice scheduled this year than it had for the Insight Bowl last year due to finals week at Mizzou next week and the earlier date of the game than those Missouri has played in recent years.
"We make it work pretty good. We're still going to get done what we need to get done," Pinkel said. "I think we've got them really well designed. We're getting our veteran players back ready to go I think a little bit quicker than we did a year ago and really getting high quality work with our young players and getting them coached."
Here are some observations from the first bowl practice:
*Safety Tavon Bolden is back with the Tigers. He was suspended for the first game and then was not part of the program throughout the season. However, Pinkel said the Tigers had a plan and if Bolden lived up to his end of the agreement, he would be able to rejoin the team.
"He's doing very, very well academically on his own," Pinkel said. "We decided to bring him back and get some practices. He won't go to the bowl game, but the good news is that turned out very positively and we expect him to be back on scholarship in January."
Bolden redshirted in 2009. He played in all 13 games in 2010, making 14 tackles, before missing this year. He will be a redshirt junior and have two years of eligibility remaining next fall.
Overall, Pinkel said he thought the time off since the Kansas game had helped his team heal up and his quarterback, who took a number of hits and was visibly slowed at times during the season after games, agreed.
"It was pretty good. Not as good as I hoped, but it was definitely nice to have some off time and not have to go and take a few hits on Saturday," James Franklin said. "It definitely feels good, but at the same time, I wish it could be a little better."
On the plus side, redshirt freshman running back Marcus Murphy is back at practice full speed after missing the season due to August shoulder surgery.
*Another Tiger who may be able to return is offensive tackle Elvis Fisher. Fisher tore his patellar tendon in fall camp and had to miss the entire season. He is walking without crutches and continues to rehab.
Fisher has applied to the NCAA for a medical hardship waiver, based on missing this year and having mononucleosis in his first year on campus, during which he redshirted. He expects to hear back on the status of that application in the next couple of weeks.
"Just because I haven't played any games this year and I had a medical reason back when I did (redshirt), I feel like there's a good chance I could," Fisher said. "But there's also a good chance I couldn't get it. You never know with these things. You just don't know. I'll find out in a couple weeks, just find out. I'm just kind of playing the waiting game."
Even if he does receive the waiver, Fisher says he hasn't decided for sure if he would return.
"I have not decided. I've been talking to the trainers and the coaches and my dad mainly about decisions for either side," he said. "I don't really know what would go into (the decision). Just kind of how I'm feeling, how my family's feeling and how my knee feels. I don't know if I want to take a shot or anything if my knee won't hold up. I don't want to play again unless I know for sure my knee will handle it. And I know it will handle it, but it's just a process."
Fisher said he will not apply for feedback from the NFL because they would have no film to evaluate from this season. He said he received a fourth round assessment from the Draft Advisory Board after last season.
*The Tigers will be back at practice on Saturday morning at 9 a.m. and again on Sunday at 12:30 before taking a five-day break for final exams.
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