At this time last year, Missouri’s secondary looked nothing like it does today. It also didn’t have the expectations that come with the success from a season ago.
What it had was several question marks, a few junior college players to mix with the more experienced returnees and a true freshman who had been converted from running back to cornerback.
Today, two of those former junior college players, Castine Bridges and Justin Garrett, are potential starters at cornerback and strong safety respectively. That freshman who used to be a running back? Carl Gettis now heads the depth chart at the other corner position after being named honorable mention All-Big 12 last year.
There’s only one position in the secondary that doesn’t have a returning starter from 2007 atop the depth chart in the spring. That’s because free safety William Moore needed surgery after an injury in the Cotton Bowl and won’t be able to reclaim his position until the fall.
This means that one of the big questions about last year’s team is considered one of the strengths this year. In a league that includes pass-happy offenses such as Texas Tech and Oklahoma State, depth at secondary is something Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said he is glad to have.
“Our best football player on defense is not out there in William Moore,” Pinkel said. “But I see a lot of good things out of our safeties. I think Garrett’s playing a lot better than he did a year ago, Del Howard’s playing a lot better than he did a year ago. Carl’s doing the same thing and so is Castine. Our backups are playing at a high level. We’re doing a lot of good things.”
The lack of the veteran presence of Moore, the only projected starter with more than a year of game experience, has forced the acceleration of leadership roles of the other returning starters. One such player is Gettis, who readily admits he cannot make the same mistakes he did a year ago.
“Being in a corner role, we only have two seniors, and I’m probably in a starting position,” he said. “They moved me into the nickel position with Mo (Moore) being out. They’re expecting a lot more out of me this year. I’m not a freshman anymore, so little mistakes that I used to make, I don’t get away with anymore.”
The accountability for mistakes might also have something to do with the depth Missouri has built in its secondary positions. Along with the more experienced players, Pinkel spoke highly of players such as Tremane Vaughns, another of the former junior college players, and Trey Hobson, who redshirted last year.
“When he’s (Moore) not out there, a lot of these other players, it gives them opportunities to move up and play on the first or second team,” Pinkel said. “Then what it does is helps your depth overall. That allows us to play more players, and I think that’s a positive.”
One of the most obvious positives that comes from that depth is the increased focus of the players who are pushed by the behind them. Pinkel has preached all spring about the example of Martin Rucker and his improvement last season which, Pinkel says, was based in his desire to become a better player. Gettis appears to share that mind set.
“It was a good experience last season, but I’m refocusing,” Gettis said. “I’m ready to step up and become more of a leader.”
INDOOR SCRIMMAGE: Poor weather forced the Tigers into the Dan Devine Pavilion for Saturday’s scrimmage. As a result, no final score of the scrimmage was announced. Chase Daniel got the least amount of action of the four quarterbacks, going 8-9 with one touchdown. Dominic Grooms and Chase Patton each added a touchdown pass of their own, but Patton also threw three interceptions, one of which Trey Hobson returned for a score.
De’Vion Moore was the top rusher for the Tigers with 64 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries, and La’Roderick Thomas’s eight catches for 89 yards and a touchdown led the Missouri receivers.
CAUTION FLAGS: Pinkel said that the scrimmage had both positives and negatives, and one of the negatives was an increase in penalty flags.
“It’s coaching, and it’s also discipline. That was on a rise today,” he said. “We’ve got 140 days until we open up with Illinois, and we can’t waste a day if we want to be a good team.”