At the end of the Missouri football team’s 2002 season, Atiyyah Ellison loathed himself. Scanning his yearlong statistics at defensive end after MU’s 38-0 loss to Kansas State on Nov. 23, he saw no sacks and not enough tackles.
“I could have done way more to help out,” Ellison said.
Coaches thought Ellison could help more, too, but not at defensive end. In the spring, after Keith Wright, an All-Big 12 Conference defensive tackle, graduated, they moved Ellison inside to tackle.
Ellison, a 6-foot-4, 290-pound junior from St. Louis, responded well. In spring awards, he won most improved defensive lineman.
“He’s probably more of a natural inside player,” defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski said. “He’s big. He’s physical. He’s got exceptional speed for his size. The transition has been very smooth so far.”
The Tigers recruited Ellison to play tackle in 1999, when he played at Parkway South High in Manchester, Mo. After failing to qualify academically for MU out of high school, he played two seasons at Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College and was able to participate in spring practices in 2000, gaining an extra year of eligibility.
Coach Gary Pinkel has high expectations for Ellison.
“He played OK last year as a first-year player,” Pinkel said. “We want to see him play and be one of the best defensive linemen in the league. That’s his goal to do that. He’s not there yet.”
Although no full-time starters return for the Tigers on the defensive
line, in addition to Ellison, senior Russ Bell, sophomore C.J. Mosley and junior Terrell Mills have starting experience. Redshirt freshman Brian Smith and junior Zach Ville top the depth chart at defensive end, and Ellison and Bell are the first-string tackles.
Bell said he can relate to the learning Ellison has had to do in preseason practices. He joined the team in 2002 after not having played football since 1998.
“He’s got a lot more thinking to do because all the defensive schemes and plays and whatnot, the stunts, they’re all new to him,” Bell said. “I was that way last year.”
Ellison said he feels more comfortable playing defensive tackle and said the position is less complicated than defensive end. He is, though, hard on himself.
“I don’t think I played up to my potential, what I was capable of doing,” Ellison said. “Hopefully this year I can do more to help out my team.”
A few more players donned red “no contact” jerseys at Thursday’s practice. In addition to linebacker Emmett Morris and defensive lineman Zach Kauflin, outside safety Quincy Wade, linebacker Derrick Ming, wide receiver Andrew Hoskins and linebacker Matt Coonley wore red jerseys.
Defensive lineman Elgin Childress also wore a red jersey, but he ran end-of-practice laps for the first time since preseason practices began. Pinkel said Childress has a torn pectoral muscle, and it is unknown whether he will play this season. Childress is second at one of the defensive end positions on the preseason depth chart.
Tight end DeQuincy Howard spent the second half of practice icing his left knee on the sidelines but did not put on a red jersey.