The loss of linebacker Cale Garrett, possibly for the season, means Missouri is losing a lot, tangibly and intangibly.
The tangible: Garrett leads the team in tackles and interceptions. He also has three defensive touchdowns. The intangible: Garrett is one of the team’s key leaders. The senior calls plays for the defense and is a team captain. Big shoes for his replacement, Cameron Wilkins, to fill.
“It’s an amazing opportunity,” Wilkins said Tuesday. “I don’t like the way I got it, but it’s just amazing the way (Garrett) prepared me for it … Everything is going to be fine.”
Wilkins has played primarily on special teams this season. Against Troy, he scooped up a fumble on a kick return, and recorded five total tackles on defense in the second half of the Tigers’ blowout victory. Wilkins said that his time on special teams has helped him prepare for a starting role because it gave him a chance to play at game speed, which is hard to replicate in practice.
Wilkins also said he feels ready for the opportunity. He had a lot of praise for Garrett, who Wilkins said had been helping him prepare for more playing time.
“(Garrett) is a very good leader so I picked up that from Cale too,” Wilkins said.
No one is expecting Wilkins to match the production of Garrett, or his important leadership role on defense. Wilkins and defensive coordinator Ryan Walters said that signal calls will now come from everywhere on defense.
“Obviously, everybody felt the most comfortable with Cale telling them what to do, and making sure we are in the right spots,” Walters said. “Collectively, we’ve got veteran guys that have a lot of experience. We’ll be fine.”
Walters said he isn’t worried about plugging Wilkins into the lineup. He mentioned the linebacker’s physical abilities and performance in practice as reasons he believes in the sophomore linebacker.
“We’re looking forward to watching him mature,” Walters said.
The coordinator also highlighted Wilkins’ performance in the second half against Troy. Walters said Wilkins was patient in the run game and relayed calls on the field effectively.
If the performance of the linebacker corps worsens without Garrett, it will require players at other positions, especially the safeties, to pick up some of the slack. But the prevailing sentiment around the team is Garrett will certainly be missed, but also that Wilkins isn’t a big risk to get exposed.
“A lot of people are expecting a drop off with Cale being gone, but I don’t,” safety Khalil Oliver said. “I don’t expect (Wilkins) to need any assistance or need any help, because he’s a playmaker, just like (linebacker Nick Bolton) is, just like Cale is.”
After Tuesday’s practice, Wilkins was surrounded by reporters, possibly for the first time in his career. It wasn’t uncommon for Garrett to be, so it makes sense that his replacement was too. Wilkins has the potential to be an important piece for Missouri’s defense.
Wilkins has his opportunity. Now it’s time to produce.
“There is no time like the present,” Walters said. “His legacy starts now.”