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September 1, 2010

Into the fire

A year ago, only four true freshmen dotted the three-deep entering Missouri's season-opening game against Illinois: T.J. Moe, Jack Meiners, Kendial Lawrence and Donovan Bonner. On Monday, the Tigers' final pre-season depth chart showed nine true freshmen who, potentially, could see playing time in 2010.

Quarterback James Franklin received word he would forgo a redshirt the earliest.

"As soon as I got moved up to second string, Coach talked to me about how I needed to start preparing," Franklin said. He finished spring practice as Missouri's back-up quarterback. "You never know what's going to happen, with a depth change or an injury."

Franklin said he enrolled early at Missouri to compete for the top back-up position, but it's still new territory for him. He was a two-year starter at Lake Dallas High School in Corinth, Tex.

"I've never really experienced that before," Franklin said. "It's nothing bad. You just have to look at it with a different mindset, because if I was to be the starter, I don't think I'm fully ready."

In 2005, Chase Daniel saw the field as a true freshman, spelling Brad Smith for a series or two in almost every game. In 2008, Blaine Gabbert was the third-string quarterback, but saw mop-up duty in a few games. Franklin said he's expecting his experience to be more like that of his current mentor.

"Maybe some mop-up time," Franklin said. "They just want to get me in there, get used to things so I don't have to get thrown into a pressure situation. They want to slowly work me in there, and hopefully that will work out for the best."

The same can't be said for Henry Josey or Marcus Murphy. The two freshman running backs put themselves in the conversation for playing time during August practices, but the suspension of Derrick Washington all but assured they would play.

Josey, the third-string running back, will most likely see more snaps out of the backfield, but Murphy is a back-up option at kick and punt returner. Both players were informed of their inclusion on the depth chart recently.

"We had our scrimmage, I believe it was on Thursday," Murphy said. "Coach came up and told me after that, that, you know, I need to get ready 'cause I'm gonna get some game time."

Other expected freshmen inclusion to the depth chart were tight end Eric Waters, left tackle Anthony Gatti and cornerback E.J. Gaines. Many predicted that either Bud Sasser or Marcus Lucas would play, but not both. The two freshman receivers, however, are listed third at their respective positions. Lucas came on strong toward the end of camp.

Among the unexpected moves were the inclusion of Mitch Morse, and the exclusion of Darvin Ruise. Morse was vying for time at right guard with fellow freshman Nick Demien, who was the higher-ranked recruit out of high school.

"They really haven't talked to me at all (about playing time)," Morse said. "I really have no idea. They were supposed to talk to me later, but they decided it was already on the depth chart, that I was No. 2, so they didn't."

While Morse wasn't shooting for a redshirt, he said his inclusion on the depth chart was a "big surprise."

"Coming out of a small private school, I guess I didn't expect it," Morse said.

Likewise, Ruise was surprised by the lack of his name on the depth chart.

"Big surprise," Ruise said. "But coaches know what's up, they know what we need right now."

Ruise said three position changes in less than a year -- from high school quarterback, to safety, and then to linebacker when he arrived in Columbia -- might have been asking too much.

"It's a big change, so I have to get acclimated to it to be able to perform at the highest level," Ruise said.

Still, nothing is set in stone. Ruise explained there is still a chance he could play, especially on special teams.

"That all depends on me," Ruise said. "If they see anything in practice that I'm maturing on, I'm getting better, hopefully I'll get thrown in the fire. That's where I want to be."

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