There's no question that, despite the presence of William Moore and Carl Gettis, the 2008 Mizzou secondary was the team's weakest link. Of Mizzou's four losses, really only one could be laid at the feet of the defensive backs (the Kansas game, though even then...if the offense had produced anything in the first 25 minutes of the game, Mizzou would have probably won), but while you can somewhat dismiss the "117th in pass defense!" due to a) opponents playing from behind a lot, b) opponents running a ton of plays due to Mizzou running a ton of plays, and c) the Big 12 having historic passing numbers across the board, it was still the weak link. Mizzou was #80 in the country in pass efficiency defense, and even takign Big 12 offenses into account, this was overall a weak unit.
What were the main causes? Misuse of William Moore? Epically bad communication between CBs and safeties at the end of the year? Lack of talent/athleticism in at least two of the four DB positions (#2 CB and SS)? Well...
- If the problem was misuse of Willy Mo, then look for continued problems in '09, as the Mizzou staff has already mentioned that they plan on using Carl Gettis in the "Willy Mo" role (i.e. the nickel back who blitzes a lot and plays all over the field) in '09. The coaches obviously don't think the problems stemmed from bad defensive philosophy. Maybe they're right, maybe they're wrong--we'll see soon enough.
- If the problem was bad communication, then in theory things might improve. The two players complaining about bad communication after the KU game were Gettis and Kenji Jackson (plus, Willy Mo was seen excoriating Justin Garrett after one big play), leading one to believe that the main problems in communication might have (hopefully) been at the feet of Garrett, or Castine Bridges, or Hardy Ricks/Del Howard (Deldy Rickard?). If that's the case, it's a good thing as Gettis and Jackson both have at least two more years in the secondary, and the problems are located mostly with upperclassmen who hit their ceiling. It might be pure wishful thinking to simply scapegoat the older guys, but hopefully the problem really did lie with them. Again, we'll see soon enough.
- It certainly seems that, at the very least, the "athleticism" quotient will improve for Mizzou with the addition of RSFr's Robert Steeples, Kip Edwards, and Zaviar Gooden to the DB corps. As for talent...well, you got it...we'll see soon enough.
On to the returnees, redshirts, and newbies after the jump...
Carl Gettis (5'11, 200, Junior)
2008: 78 tackles, 4.0 TFL, 1 INT, 1 FR, 4 PBR
2007: 49 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 1 INT, 1 PBR
As someone who has tried to trademark "The Carl Gettis Treatment," it's clear to see that I'm a fan of #19. That said, there isn't a more confusing player in the country to evaluate than Gettis. His stats are...fine. He plays well close to the line of scrimmage and seems to defend the run well (part of the reason, I assume, that he's moving to nickel back in certain situations next year), but the biggest part of his game doesn't come across in stats at all.
For two years, opponents' #1 receivers simply haven't done much against Mizzou. When opponents have a receiver that goes off, it's likely the #2 or #3 or #4 guy (think Kerry Meier, or Northwestern's Rasheed Ward, or OSU's Damian Davis, or Illinois' Will Judson). Guys like Arrelious Benn or Dez Bryant didn't do much at all against Mizzou, at least not when the game was in question. Sure, Gettis had trouble with Dez Briscoe, and he certainly got torched for one of Northwestern's TDs (though that looked like another communication issue as much as anything), but...if it truly were because of wonderful coverage, wouldn't Gettis at least have racked up big pass break-up numbers? And if he's so good that Big 12 teams just didn't even bother to look at the guy he was covering, then wouldn't he have at least gotten second-team All-Big 12 from the coaches?
(Actually, scratch that last part. Those coaches' all-conference teams are so awful that they shouldn't be used in any debate.)
Anyway, no matter how good Gettis is or is not, he's going to have to be great in 2009. He will be the leader of an extremely young, athletic group of DBs, and after Mizzou struggled against the pass in '08, you can bet that every '09 opponent is planning on attacking the secondary in a major way in '09.
Kevin Rutland (6'0, 190, Junior)
2008: 25 tackles, 1 INT, 1 FR, 5 PBR
2007: 4 tackles
Trey Hobson (5'11, 190, Sophomore)
2008: 16 tackles, 1 TFL
I'll be honest--I have no idea what to make of Kevin Rutland. He doesn't seem as fast or physical as Trey Hobson, but he was above Hobson on the depth chart most of the year. I don't know if it was just that Hobson was sporadic in practice or what, but I'll feel a lot less worried about this unit if Hobson emerges over Rutland.
I think Hobson has a much higher upside--lots of people were extremely complimentary of his play last spring--and played quite well in the Alamo Bowl, but he clearly needs to become more consistent. Rutland's upside is more defined, and while his seeming consistency is a good thing, I'm all about upside, baby. Me and Hubie Brown.
Munir Prince (5'10, 185, Junior)
2007 (at Notre Dame): 3 tackles, 1 PBR, 1 punt return for -8 yds
2006 (at Notre Dame): 15 carries, 21 yds at RB
Ahh, Munir Prince. "Whoosh." Scourge of Rakes of Mallow.
It's apparently very easy to talk yourself into Munir Prince. It's already started here--people on other sites talking about how much he'll stabilize the secondary and the speed he can bring to the table...even though he's never actually performed well on the field in front of an audience, and he's never shown the game speed that he's rumored to have.
Honestly, these expectations have been unfair to him, a lot like they were unfair to Brian Coulter. Prince was never more than a third-stringer at Notre Dame (on at least one horrible Notre Dame team), and while he could certainly be ready to shine--he is fast, he is now an upperclassmen, he has been a defensive back for a couple years now (after moving from RB) and he is also now playing closer to home, which might make a difference--let's let him prove it first. I'm going to assume that either Hobson, Rutland, or one of the redshirt freshmen will be starting opposite Carl Gettis, and I'm going to let him make an impression on me with a blank slate. I encourage you to do the same.
Robert Steeples (6'1, 190, RSFr)
Kip Edwards (6'1, 185, RSFr)
I'm listing these two together because they are more or less interchangeable. They're basically the same size and speed, the staff has been extremely high on both of them, and if one of them emerges at the level of Gettis or Kenji Jackson, this secondary could suddenly be a lot better. As closely as I'll be watching Trey Hobson in the spring to see if he can put together consistent effort, I'll be watching these two for...you guessed it...upside. It seems they both have a lot of it, and I'm excited about the future of this secondary. In 2010, this secondary should be great. I'm just not sure about 2009 yet.
TJ Moe (6'0, 180, St. Louis)
Likely a safety, I'm putting Moe here because he seems to be such a ridiculous athlete that he might force the staff to fit him on the field somewhere, anywhere. He's athletic enough to play QB, WR, CB, or S, and if he makes a quick adjustment to college speed, look out.
Kerwin Stricker (6'2, 190, Washington, MO)
Likely a WR, I'm putting him here because he seems to fit the "big, athletic DB" model and might find himself wedged out at WR.
Mike Lang (6'0, 180, Largo, FL)
A brand, spanking new name from the recruiting trail, Lang has offers from Mizzou, Iowa State, and Cincinnati among others. Don't know a thing about him, other than Mizzou felt high enough about him to offer him a schollie. That's good enough for me.
2008 vs 2009
Will the Mizzou CBs be better in 2009? Easy answer: it really can't be worse than 2008. Harder answer: it could be worse because of the inexperience involved, but this position has received a major shot in the arm from the athleticism standpoint. Mizzou's pass defense is based on a "read and react" type of mindset, which works if you've got guys who can react really quickly. That alone dissuades the use of under-classmen who aren't quite up to speed in the mental department yet, but if guys like Hobson, Steeples or Edwards are ready for prime time, this defense just got a lot faster and, possibly, a lot better. This unit will be very interesting to watch in March and April.