Add the Missouri football team’s Big 12 Conference championships (zero) to its wins against Nebraska in the past 25 years (zero) and that’s how many games outside safety Dedrick Harrington has started.
Harrington, a probable starter at rover when the Tigers play Illinois on Saturday, is one of several redshirt freshmen who might get significant playing time this season.
“We’ve got some new faces in there,” defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus said. “We’ve moved some guys around. The defensive speed has increased a lot. That’s obviously due to recruiting.”
Harrington chose MU over Notre Dame and Nebraska, and played wide receiver and safety at Mexico (Mo.) High. He was named the team’s most improved outside safety in spring awards, and the Sporting News placed him on its 2003 All-Spring team.
Although he has been at the top of the depth chart since midway through spring practices, Harrington worries less about starting the first game and more about keeping his starting job after that.
“I wasn’t always focused on playing time, it was just having myself ready and just knowing as long as I worked hard something good should come out of it,” Harrington said.
At defensive end, redshirt freshman Brian Smith has shown coaches that his quickness compensates for his small build (6 feet 3, 220 pounds) compared with other defensive linemen. He has been at the top of the depth chart since the beginning of spring practices.
“Being I’m only 220, speed is what I have working for me,” Smith said. “That’s not a lot of weight to be a D-end, so I got to depend on my speed. I want to put on about 15-20 pounds before the end of the season so I can be 240 with my speed.”
A year of practice allows the players to concentrate on becoming the Tigers’ favorite catch phrase: “bigger, faster, stronger,” but the redshirt year also tweaks psychological growth. Defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski said Smith has had little trouble adjusting to the responsibilities that come with starting.
“We’ve got to make sure he’s got all his mental assignments down, because with a younger player that is harder, but he’s really done a pretty good job of that,” Kuligowski said.
Since moving to free safety from quarterback during spring practices, redshirt freshman David Overstreet has used his athleticism and his vocal leadership to challenge junior Nino Williams for the starting spot. When the Tigers’ new depth chart is released today, Overstreet might be moved to another secondary position where he can start.
Overstreet said his relationship with older players isn’t any different from anyone else on the team; everyone knows he will be loud.
“They look out for me, but they feel I can step up and make a role on the field,” Overstreet said. “They feel like I’m a leader on the field and everything, and I can talk to them.”
Tight end DeQuincy Howard, a 6-4 redshirt freshman from Tyler (Texas) High, runs a 4.68 40-yard dash and added 25 pounds over the summer to put him at 245. He was named the Tigers’ most improved receiver in spring practices.
“When I was recruited they told me they were looking for speed and to change that position around,” Howard said.
Howard did not participate in Wednesday’s scrimmage because of a strained medial collateral ligament in his left knee, but when he returns he might see playing time. He is behind senior J.D. McCoy and junior Clint Matthews on the preseason depth chart.
The week before the season opener will be a long one for Harrington, but he said he will concentrate on Illinois rather than himself.
“I don’t want to get too nervous, I don’t want to get too anxious; I just want to let it come, just prepare as much as possible in the meantime,” Harrington said.
Inexperience might be a disadvantage for the Tigers’ redshirt freshmen, but optimism isn’t.
“I’ve got a lot more years here to make sure this team keeps going in the right direction,” Overstreet said.