COLUMBIA — On Saturday, the Missouri football team will have three safeties on the field.
It’s not some new defensive coverage scheme. It's necessity. With injuries to linebackers Will Ebner, Luke Lambert and Donovan Bonner, senior safety Jarrell Harrison will be going out of his way to save the team.
Harrison has become the team's newest linebacker.
“We were getting kind of slim in there,” Harrison said. “I just told them (the coaches), ‘Whatever you need me to do.’”
When the coaches approached Harrison about playing linebacker, he said that he didn’t think they were crazy. He was ready to do whatever they needed to help the team win.
This shows Harrison's maturity and his trust of the coaching staff said MU coach Gary Pinkel, who also acknowledged that the Tigers would be in a lot of trouble right now without Harrison.
In last weekend’s 38-28 victory against Kansas State, Harrison played his first game at the inside linebacker position despite having only a week to adjust.
“It’s been very, very difficult,” Pinkel said. “I think Jarrell went in and did a good job. I mean, you move a guy from safety to inside linebacker and he plays, that says so much about him.”
Harrison said that the week leading up to the Kansas State game was definitely a challenge. He knew he would be facing off against bigger players, and, as defensive coordinator Dave Steckel warned, it would be a lot more physical than playing safety, especially because of the Wildcats’ power running game.
“It is a very difficult position to play,” Pinkel said. “It’s not like you can stick a guy in and he’s just got two or three things to do… There are so many reads and keys that these guys have.”
Defensive end Aldon Smith thought that the switch was a risky experiment, but as the Kansas State game went on everything came together well. Harrison, who had four tackles against Kansas State, is happy that he performed well, but he knows that he probably won’t ever be as sharp as the other linebackers.
“I would say that the fundamentals are pretty easy to learn, but it’s something you have to learn with experience,” Harrison said.
As Harrison continues to learn his temporary position, he relies on his great sense of the game and the knowledge of other players, especially senior linebacker Andrew Gachkar.
“It’s only my second week playing (at linebacker), so I’ve got to pick up some of those tidbits from the other linebackers,” Harrison said.
This wasn’t Harrison’s first experience at linebacker, though. He started at the position for a couple games in sixth grade for the Las Vegas Dolphins. Laughing, he said that he thought his 165-pound, 12-year-old self did pretty well playing the position. It helps that he was bigger than most of the offensive linemen faced.
Saturday's opponent won't be as easy. His switch was a surprise to the Kansas State offense, but Iowa State will have studied film all week of Harrison's game at linebacker. They’ll know what to expect, and Harrison knows that will add to the challenge.
“I’m about 212 (pounds) playing inside the box,” Harrison said. “I think they’re going to try to run the ball my way. If I was the coach, I’d do it, so I’ll definitely have to be ready for it.”
Harrison knows he won't play a perfect game. He knows he’s going to get blocked, that he could be an easy target. But that really doesn’t matter, Harrison said, because he just needs to go with the flow.
Essentially, that’s what he has been doing since he told Pinkel he would move to linebacker. It was a new challenge, but it was all part of helping the team regain its winning momentum. Pinkel said that in hindsight, he thinks it was a smart decision, but he knows that it could have ended poorly. It was one of the coaches’ only options, though. Instead of sitting back and complaining about injuries, they had no choice but to make a move.
“You’ve just got to find a way,” Pinkel said.