Linebacker's versatility helps Missouri football team

Wednesday, September 14, 2011 | 10:07 p.m. CDT; updated 10:45 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, September 14, 2011
Missouri linebacker Andrew Wilson, right, now plays middle linebacker for the Tigers in place of injured starter Will Ebner. However, Wilson started as an outside linebacker against Miami (Ohio) on Sept. 3.

COLUMBIA — Andrew Wilson's versatility is coming in handy for the Missouri football team. It has allowed the Tigers to move forward after an ankle injury to one of their starting linebackers.

Will Ebner was hurt in the first half of Missouri's season opener against Miami (Ohio). He’s been on the sidelines since, but his position at middle linebacker was filled swiftly by Wilson.

Wilson started at outside linebacker against Miami (Ohio) and recorded a team-high 10 tackles, but in the team’s second game at Arizona State, Wilson moved over to fill in for Ebner.

Wilson, a sophomore, said Missouri linebackers are expected to know how to play both in the middle and outside. He said practicing the different positions makes all the linebackers more versatile, adding that the coaching staff rotates the players through the different positions in practice.

“We just work on it a lot, playing both (positions),” Wilson said. “If I had to play middle after playing outside all the time, it’d be difficult, but we do a good job of getting all the positions in in practice, so it helps a lot.”

“All our players do that,” defensive coordinator Dave Steckel said. “They all have to learn all three positions. Their intelligence is what makes them be able to do that. You kind of pigeonhole some guys at this position or that position, but based on injuries, now you have to move people around.”

Steckel used the popular comparison that the middle linebacker is the quarterback of the defense because of his play-calling duties. Wilson said the difference between playing middle and outside linebacker often comes down to communication on the field.

“You talk to the (defensive) line,” Wilson said. “On the outside, sometimes you’re by yourself. You communicate with the corner. But if you’re in the middle, you’ve got to talk to the line. … You talk a little more.”

Like his athletic ability, Wilson’s versatility might be genetic. His father played linebacker at Missouri from 1980 to 1983. Wilson said he talks to his father after every game, and his dad commonly offers up what Wilson called “constructive criticism.” At least that was the case after Missouri's loss Friday night at Arizona State.

Aside from talking to his dad, Wilson said he read a book Saturday to relax. His selection was “Romo: My Life on the Edge: Living Dreams and Slaying Dragons," the autobiography of former NFL linebacker Bill Romanowski. Wilson said he knew of the linebacker when he was still in the pros, but he likes him a lot more after reading the book.

For now, Wilson, who teammate Darvin Ruise calls one of the team’s hardest hitters, is likely to stay at middle linebacker until Ebner returns.

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