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Linebacker becomes leader

Brock Christopher is on the practice field for every drill, and he’s working on play-calling
Friday, August 17, 2007 | 2:00 a.m. CDT; updated 3:57 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008
Junior linebacker Brock Christopher, left, defends reciever Jeremy Maclin during practice.

Missouri linebacker Brock Christopher remembers when the Tigers coaching staff told him he would be switching from middle linebacker to strong side linebacker before the 2006 season.

Van Alexander, the original starting strong side linebacker, had injured his groin, and the team needed Christopher to leave the position he had played nearly his whole life for an entirely new one.

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When Christopher heard the news, he didn’t gripe, he didn’t whine and he didn’t ask questions. He was too busy getting ready.

The season began, and Christopher, then a sophomore, thrived alongside seniors Marcus Bacon and Dedrick Harrington to form a formidable linebacking corps. Christopher started in 11 of 13 games and was fourth on the team with 87 tackles. In the third game of the season, against New Mexico, Christopher recorded a career-high 12 tackles, including a team-best 10 solo stops.

Now in his junior year, Christopher is again dealing with an unusual transition. Bacon and Harrington graduated last spring, and in came freshmen Luke Lambert and Michael Keck. Sophomore Sean Weatherspoon played primarily on special teams last year but will be counted on to replace Bacon, who led the Tigers in tackles in 2006. And with Alexander healthy again, the coaches moved Christopher back to middle linebacker.

When Christopher heard the news, he didn’t gripe, he didn’t whine and he didn’t ask questions. He was too busy getting ready.

“I have high expectations for myself, but our defense has to play well for us to win this year,” Christopher said. “It has to be the backbone of the team, so we have to do whatever we can to get prepared.”

Since earning significant playing time as a true freshman, Christopher has done whatever the team has asked him. And now, with a new corps of linebackers expected to improve on last year’s 11th-ranked rushing defense in Big 12 play, the coaches are asking something different of Christopher: to be a vocal leader.

“Brock’s got a lot of experience and has played in a lot of big games for us,” defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus said about his soft-spoken player. “He’s been doing well during fall camp, and we expect big things out of him in terms of leadership and his play-making abilities during the season.”

Teammates have always admired Christopher’s blue-collar attitude. They see how he comes to practice every day, working tirelessly to improve and never taking a play off during drills or scrimmages. His work ethic is infectious.

“He definitely leads by example,” Weatherspoon said. “He’s not a big talker or anything, but he knows what he’s doing. It helps all of us.”

This season, Christopher’s duties require him to be a more vocal presence. As the middle linebacker, he is in charge of calling in the defensive plays from the sideline and yelling out any shifts or stunts the defensive line needs to make before the snap. It’s a role that Eberflus said Christopher is adjusting to quickly.

“The middle linebacker is the guy that takes charge in this defense,” he said. Christopher “is a guy that plays with his pads, and he’s working on his vocal skills. At that position you have to be vocal, and he’s certainly working on that.”

Christopher began acclimating himself to his new role in the spring. When Lambert and Keck first arrived, Christopher was there to answer any questions they had. And when Weatherspoon isn’t exactly sure about one of his assignments, he has no problem going to his more experienced teammate for help.

“When you want to know something, you can ask Brock, because he pretty much knows everything about the defense right now,” Weatherspoon said. “He’s been playing (linebacker) for three years, and everybody else is trying to get up to that level. So it’s definitely a plus to have him out there.”

As fall camp winds down and the team begins to plan for its opener against Illinois, plenty of questions remain about the talent and depth of the linebacking unit. But Christopher isn’t listening to the doubters. He’s too busy getting ready.

“We still have some work to do,” he said. “But I think we’ll be there by game time. We’ve got plenty of talent on the defensive side of the ball, we’ve just got to put it all together.”

Van gets going: Linebacker Van Alexander removed his red pullover to participate in several drills during Thursday’s morning practice. It was his heaviest activity since he was injured with a slight hamstring strain on Aug. 9.

Tommy sits out: Receiver Tommy Saunders missed Thursday morning’s practice because of an illness, coach Gary Pinkel said. He did not elaborate on the nature of the illness. Saunders was back in action, however, for the afternoon session.

Bolting indoors: Yesterday afternoon’s practice was moved to the Daniel J. Devine Pavilion shortly after lightning was spotted during warmups. The practice concluded the Tigers’ final two-a-day workouts.


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