COLUMBIA - All attention turned toward Del Howard as he walked into the lobby of the Tom Taylor Athletic Complex on Monday. The sophomore defensive back was probably just another reserve on the Tiger defensive depth chart just one week prior, but recent events, for better or worse, have increased the interest around him.
Howard was listed at No. 2 on the Tiger depth chart at strong safety behind starter and team captain Pig Brown. Now with Brown’s season over due to an injury to his left Achilles tendon against Iowa State, Howard finds himself having to step into a position that was occupied by one of the defense’s biggest playmakers.
“When you lose a player like Pig, people need to step up on both sides of the ball,” head coach Gary Pinkel said.
By no means is Howard seeing his first extensive playing time. He played 12 games last season at cornerback, accounting for nine tackles and two interceptions. This season, he moved back to safety, a position he played in high school. He said his time at cornerback helped him get used to the speed of the college game and has helped as he transitioned back to what he felt was the position for him.
The coaching staff will also work defensive backs Kevin Rutland, Justin Garrett and Castine Bridges into the rotation, but Howard will undoubtedly get his fair share of game repititions.
Howard recalled being on the sideline when Brown’s injury occurred and having concern for his teammate.
“I was reading the play when it happened and saw him go down,” Howard said. “I was hoping he would get up but, when he didn’t, I knew I had to step up.”
That part does not concern Howard. His game experience as a freshman has made him feel capable and confident that he will produce on the field.
“If I prepare well, I can do well because I practice to play,” he said.
And as the Tigers prepare to play at Colorado, Howard says he will look to Brown a lot for guidance and tips to help him during the game. , Pieces of advice Brown handed down before his injury remain withHoward. Brown taught him to, as Howard put it, “overprepare” and be ready for whatever is thrown toward him.
Normally, injured players are not allowed to travel with the team at away games, but Brown’s importance as a leader and emotional spark prompted Pinkel to change the rule, allowing Brown to accompany the team on its remaining road games.
With coaches spread so thin among other players on the sideline, Howard said it will be nice to have Brown on the sideline, serving as somewhat of an extra coach.
“You might as well give him a headset,” Howard said.