August 7, 2009

Alexander finally back in form

Two years ago, Danario Alexander was the best receiver in camp at Missouri. Seriously. On a team with Martin Rucker, Jeremy Maclin, Will Franklin and Chase Coffman, it was Alexander turning heads every day in August.

"I think he knows if he'd have been 100% healthy, he'd have been right up there with J-MAC, right in that area right now," said Gary Pinkel. "We know the impact player that he is, we've seen that before."

Then came the injuries. A broken wrist. Torn knee ligaments. More knee surgery. All of it limited Alexander to just 22 games and three starts over the last two seasons. Sure, Jeremy Maclin and Tommy Saunders and others had something to do with it, but Alexander was once in that league. And Missouri thinks he can be again.

"I think I'm all the way back," Alexander said. "I've just got a couple things to work on. I'm never out of the training room."

It was against the Fighting Illini that that 2007 campaign came to a screeching halt. The sophomore had nine catches for 82 yards before going down awkwardly on his wrist. It was broken. He would sit out the rest of the non-conference season.

Since then, Alexander has missed only one game. But he was clearly not the same receiver. In the 21 games he has played, the Marlin, TX native has caught 54 passes for 664 yards. The numbers aren't eye-popping. But watch Alexander in camp-now or then-and you can see why it was once thought he, and not Maclin, would be the Missouri receiver leaving early for the NFL.

But perhaps one of Alexander's biggest tasks will be getting his teammates to believe they can be just fine even without players like Maclin, Coffman and Saunders. The trio combined to catch 264 passes for 3,080 yards and 30 touchdowns a season ago.

"I'm just looking forward to stepping into that big role," he said. "We got Jerrell, Wes Kemp, Andrew Jones stepping in. We've still got really good receivers."

"I think as a group of receivers we all think we can carry that weight," Kemp said. "I think we've got a good group of guys and we'll be able to carry the load. The bar's been set and we're trying to reach that standard."

To get there, they need Danario Alexander on the field. After two long years in and out of the training room, Alexander finally feels ready.

"He's overcome all the adversity that he's had," Pinkel said. "I think he's got all that stuff in his past now."

If so, the future might be a lot brighter than expected for the Tigers.

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