Maty Mauk made it clear. He wasn't making an excuse.
For much of Thursday's second fall camp scrimmage, the numbers for Mauk and James Franklin--the leader in the clubhouse for the starting quarterback job on August 31st against Murray State--were more or less indistinguishable. Both had completed about two-thirds of their passes. Each had thrown two touchdowns. Neither had turned the ball over.
Then the final scrimmage session--the two-minute drill--began. Franklin led his offense down for a field goal. Mauk had two drives. Both ended in interceptions. The major difference? Kony Ealy.
"Today was his day," Mauk said. "He did an excellent job and I know he's gonna grade out high."
"Kony's a star," defensive tackle Lucas Vincent said. "He's going to do big things this season."
After Franklin's drive for a field goal (which was missed) against the No. 2 defense, Mauk led the second-team offense against the Tigers' top defensive unit.
Ealy was lined up inside, the defensive tackle to the left side of Missouri's second-string offensive line, in the Tigers' "candy" formation. Redshirt sophomore defensive end Shane Ray was to Ealy's right.
"It's definitely been working," Ray said. "Me and Kony on the same side, it's just trouble for any quarterback and offensive line. It's definitely working out."
Ray got pressure on Mauk on at least one snap. Ealy seemed to set up permanent residence in the quarterback's hip pocket.
"Everybody goes crazy because we know that's time where we get out here and it's time to get to work," Ealy said. "We've got to get to the quarterback, we've got to get in the backfield and disrupt."
"That's the one thing, especially on my blindside," Mauk said. "I've got to start to feel (that) a little bit better. I could get him with that spin a couple of times, but I mean, he's a guy that learns quick and I mean, he's fast. Just something you got to deal with."
For the media, it was a glimpse of what teammates say they see on a daily basis.
"First of all, he's a big guy," Ray said. "He's explosive, he's strong. You give that guy any one-on-one matchup, you might as well just call it a wrap."
"He's a freak of nature athlete," Mauk added.
Ealy has always had the physical tools. He is listed at 6-foot-5, 275 pounds and was once a Division One basketball prospect. He is bigger than Aldon Smith, his predecessor at defensive end, the first-round draft pick, the San Francisco 49er star and the player to whom Ealy's potential is often compared. But for Ealy, the strides on the field are due largely to those he has made off of it.
"Besides the plays, (Gary Pinkel) is teaching me character, how to treat people, how I should react to people treating me," Ealy said. "Coach Pinkel preaches to us getting it and doing extra. I know last year, I didn't get it. Now I'm starting to get it. He's preaching it, preaching it, it's been drilled into my head. Just constantly, constantly thought about it and now I'm getting it. I'm doing every little thing right each and every day trying to get better.
"Just growing up, they always preach leading by example. I know I'm a junior now. It's definitely my role to start leading. Not just telling somebody what to do, but showing them through my actions."
While Ealy was busy making life miserable for Missouri's backup quarterback, he was simultaneously taking some pressure off an inexperienced secondary which was scrimmaging without senior cornerback and captain E.J. Gaines.
"This is kind of an adverse situation because we do count on E.J. a lot," Ealy said. "But at the same time, what if E.J. goes down in the season? Lord forbid that, but just saying. We need those young guys to be able to be ready to pop in and get ready to go."
It will be much easier for them all if Ealy can carry his camp performance into the season.