COLUMBIA — After Sunday afternoon’s football practice, redshirt Michael Keck stood outside of the locker room with a T-shirt in his hand and two small white boxes containing deli sandwiches and chips cradled under his arm. The food serves as after practice fuel, but it is also helping his next transition as a college football player. Keck spent much of this season as an outside linebacker but will soon be setting up in a three-point stance as a defensive end.
The 6-foot-5 inch 230-pound Keck is an ideal size to play linebacker but is smaller compared to other defensive ends. With his physical gifts and a few more pounds, coaches saw Keck’s potential as a future pass rusher for the Tigers.
“Once he adjusted to the speed of the game and got a little more size on him, we felt from an athletic standpoint that he could be a high-level defensive end,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said.
A 2007 graduate of Harrisonville High School, Keck played both positions, garnering Parade All-American honors as a defensive end his senior season. Rated as the No. 2 prospect in Missouri by Rivals.com that year, Keck graduated early and enrolled at MU last winter.
“Redshirting and coming in early has really given me a good start academically so that it hasn’t been as big of a struggle as it could be,” Keck said.
Given a choice by the coaches of playing either linebacker or defensive end, Keck chose the former and got to work on learning his new assignment. Although he had played the position in high school, he admitted that he mostly got by on his size and speed, which he knew he wouldn’t carry him at this level. Slowly Keck eased into his new job and was listed as the No. 2 weakside linebacker coming into the fall. But a surgery to repair a strained shoulder sidelined him for over two months and forced coaches to redshirt him. Once Keck was healthy, coaches knew defensive end was where to make the most out of Keck’s ability.
“In terms of his size and speed, we knew that he could play the linebacker position,” Pinkel said. “But we also saw him line up as a defensive end in high school so we knew that it wouldn’t be a huge change for him.”
According to Pinkel, the loose nature of Sunday’s practice aided him in fine tuning his fundamental skill set for the defensive end position.
During Saturday’s practice, Keck and fellow defensive end Tyler Crane became competitive during a form tackling drill. When one would tackle the other, some pointed, but good-natured comments were heard. It is a sign that the physical changes will come but the attitude seems to be there.
“Me and him were talking smack before practice,” Keck said. “It was the first day of drills and we just having a little fun.”