Garrett relishing role as starting safety

Thursday, August 7, 2008 | 8:31 p.m. CDT; updated 7:23 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Senior strong safety Justin Garrett runs drills during practice on Thursday.

COLUMBIA - It was right in front of him. The lasting legacy of Pig Brown manifested in the form of a lonely, wobbling pigskin.

Of course, Brown might not have known what he was scooping up at the time. But 102 yards and six points later, the safety gave Missouri fans an unforgettable moment that sparked an unforgettable season with a game-changing touchdown in the 2007 season's Arch Rivalry game against Illinois.

Now, as senior Justin Garrett enters a new season, he sees this year's meeting with the Illini as a chance to have a coming out party of his own as the starter across from All-American safety William Moore.

"(Illinois quarterback) Juice (Williams) gotta throw me two picks," Garrett said. "I dream about big plays in that game every night, every night. Two picks, that's my dream right there. I think that's gonna be my debut. People are expecting a big show, so I'm gonna give it to 'em."

After Brown suffered a season-ending injury against Iowa State last season, Garrett, a junior college transfer in his first season at Missouri, stepped in to fill the Tigers' Pig-sized hole. Although some saw Brown's injury as a near-fatal blow, the Tiger defense hardly missed a beat. Now that the Missouri players and coaches realize what they have in Garrett, people are taking notice.

"There isn't a doubt in my mind about what he can do," Moore said. "A lot of guys look at me and ‘Spoon, (Sean Weatherspoon) but JG (Garrett) is one of the most vocal leaders on this defense. Not only that, but he backs it up, too, with how well he's got his coverages down and what he can do in run support."

Head coach Gary Pinkel agrees, and said there's no comparison between where Garrett was last year and where he is now.

"He's just a completely different player," Pinkel said. "You get confidence and it's remarkable what it does for you. I expect him to just have a great year for us."

It doesn't take much to see where Garrett's newfound confidence comes from, either. In last season's finale at the Cotton Bowl against Arkansas, he recorded a career-best nine tackles, including forcing a fumble from Heisman Trophy runner-up Darren McFadden. Of his 51 tackles, 32 came in his final six games as the starting safety.

"Last year, he did everything humanly possible to get himself ready to play for this team," said Matt Eberflus, Missouri's defensive coordinator and safeties coach. "Whether it be meeting a little extra, going over film with me, or studying at home back at his apartment, he's just done everything. For him to have come so far in such a short time is just outstanding."

Barring injury, Garrett and Moore will enter the season as one of most feared defensive backfields in the Big 12. For a season where anticipation for the opening kickoff has never been higher, Garrett welcomes the team's lofty expectations.

"We talk a lot, and I take away anything I can from him to help me become a better player," Garrett said of his relationship with Moore. "We're looking good back there so far, but we just can't wait to see what this season's going to look like."

Rough-and-tumble: With the team dressed in shells, things got a bit physical late in practice between receiver Jared Perry and cornerback Carl Gettis. After a play, the two were involved in some extracurricular activity on the sidelines, with Gettis wrestling Perry to the ground before the two were separated by teammates.

"You don't like fights, but you just have to keep things from getting out of hand," Pinkel said. "If it does, I'll make a rule out there that changes that, and it won't be out of hand anymore."

Nice Grab: Two plays after fumbling an exchange with tailback Derrick Washington, Chase Daniel hit Jeremy Maclin over the middle for a diving catch in one of the practice's highlights.

MORE OF THE SAME: Chase Coffman was not to be outdone. During a passing skeleton drill early on in practice Thursday morning, he came up with gem reception of his own, sliding to the ground and snatching a bullet out of nowhere from Chase Daniel in the middle of the defense.

LINEBACKERS IN RED: Van Alexander and Brian Coulter are both still wearing red jerseys in practice. Alexander is recovering from knee surgery in April, and Coulter is nursing an ankle injury suffered earlier in the week.

FULLY DRESSED: Players will dress in full pads Friday for the first time since April's Black and Gold scrimmage.


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