ATLANTA — A year ago at this time, Missouri fans and players alike spoke excitedly about the new defensive coordinator Steve Wilkon how the longtime NFL coach could turn his unit into one of the SEC’s best.
Of course, the results didn’t live up to the hype.
The Tigers were injured particularly early on the ground a season ago. Missouri gave up 275 or more rushing yards to six of its first eight opponents, including 458 yards in a run against Tennessee. The defense, ranked bottom out of 130 FBS teams against the run at the halfway point last season, ended the year ranked 124th in rushing defense and 113th in goal defense. launch security Martes Manuel said a major reason for the problems early in the season was the players struggling to understand Wilks’ new scheme.
So, a year later, it feels a little odd that the Missouri defense is once again being led by a new defense coordinator Blake Baker, could be a source of optimism. But a quietly confident Eli Trinkwitz almost guaranteed unity will be significantly better in 2022 when he took the stage at SEC Media Days on Monday.
“We’ll get better on the defensive,” said Drinkwitz. “People have asked me what will it look like if we have a successful season? Firstly, we need to improve on the defensive side of football. We are going to.”
Indeed, the Tigers will likely go as far as the defense can take, especially in early-season road tests against Kansas State and Auburn. On the other side of the ball, Missouri will bring in a new starting quarterback and attempt to replace All-American running back Tyler Badieas well as two starting offensive linemen and all his tight ends room from a season ago.
The unit’s leaders reiterated Drinkwitz’s belief that they would rise to the occasion.
For one thing, Missouri has nine players on the defensive end who started at least six games. And as painful as it was for these players to be burned to the ground a year ago, the safety Martes Manuel said they learned from the experience. As Baker implements his defense this season, players now know what not to do.
“It teaches me and my team-mates that we have to pay more attention to the details because they matter,” said Manuel. “Last year I feel like, not that we didn’t pay attention to details, but we probably weren’t that precise with them. And now we know the expectation.”
It helps that Baker has taken pains not to drastically overhaul the defense system. Baker, who previously coordinated defenses for Miami and Louisiana Tech, told reporters last spring that he would keep the 4-2-5 base formation used by Wilks and add a few creases of his own. Manuel said Baker’s defense was “not particularly difficult to understand”.
“He has taken a collaborative approach with Coach (DJ)Smith and trainer (Kevin Völker) and trainers (Al) Pogue and trainers (Al) Davis, and really focused on, okay, those were the things that we did well, that’s where we need to improve,” Drinkwitz said of Baker. “These are some things we can do to help our players be more successful. And so we can use the strengths of our players.”
The unit also received an infusion of talent from outside the roster. Of the 16 scholars Missouri added from the transfer portal or junior college ranks, 10 play on the defensive side of the ball. At least one player changed from every defensive position.
Manuel said the transfers not only addressed areas where Missouri’s defense was lacking last season, but added more depth at every position, which has only increased the offseason competition. The one that both Manuel and the defensive end carry over Isaiah McGuire Mentioned by name was a former Florida linebacker Ty’Ron Hopper, which McGuire called a “baller”.
“Because of the talent, because of the transfer portal, every position is stacked,” said Manuel. “No one is safe in a sense. Everyone has to compete, push each other, and this competition will only improve each other.”
Drinkwitz believes he has found the right coach to lead defense and the right players to fulfill his scheme. Perhaps most importantly, these players are hungry to prove him right. After a third straight .500 regular season that saw the defense intermittently embarrassed, Manuel and McGuire said the unit leaders are heading into 2022 with chips on their shoulders, motivated by the memories of last season of a successful campaign.
“Man, we’re really hungry,” Manuel said. “…We say it all the time. Every single year I’ve been here, we’ve literally been .500. So this can be very frustrating. And I think the most important thing we need to figure out is what gets us over the edge.”