The switch has been flipped from basketball to football, and I figure the best way to dip our toes back in the water is to revisit my 2009 Walkthrough series from January and see what has or hasn't changed since then. We move now to 2008's most maligned unit, the secondary (CBs, safeties).
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.
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.
What's changed? Kevin Rutland has apparently become very good at reading and reacting. The junior-to-be has gotten solid reviews from both Dave Matter and Gabe Dearmond for makng a nice play on a ball and getting a pick about once a practice, and it appears he's grabbed a decent hold of the starting CB job opposite Carl Gettis. When Gettis moves to the nickelback position, Hobson moves in at CB, suggesting he's a definite #3.
It seems pretty common for defensive backs in Mizzou's system to make a pretty nice-sized jump between sophomore and junior seasons--think David Overstreet, or Jason Simpson, or William Moore. Granted, those examples are all safeties, but I guess it's not out of the realm of possibility that things have clicked for Rutland, and he's going to be a rock-solid CB. I hope so--lord knows I've read enough about his athletic ability in the last couple of years to think he could be pretty good if he put the mental side together.
Even though I'd maybe like to see a bit more of a tight competition between Rutland, Hobson, Munir Prince and the redshirt freshmen (who are apparently playing like redshirt freshmen and stuck on 3rd string), if Rutland is that much better than them, then fine. I do like the thought of a super-physical set of CBs, and the presence of Gettis and Hobson, and to a lesser extent Rutland, suggests that this could be a pretty smart, aggressive, punishing unit, and that's certainly not a bad thing. Again, Dave Steckel's more physical mindset at defensive coordinator might be a good fit here.
Expected Spring Finish
1. Carl Gettis (Jr)
2. Kevin Rutland (Jr)
3. Trey Hosbon (So)
4. Munir Prince (Jr)
5. Robert Steeples (RSFr)
6. Kip Edwards (RSFr)
Once again, not a senior in the mix.
Even when [Hardy] Ricks was starting at CB, he seemed to play more like a safety. His coverage skills aren't impressive, but he's big and physical, he closes fast and hits hard. I was excited about the prospect of RIcks as strong safety, but...it just hasn't really taken yet. Any view of Ricks in 2008 was of Ricks chasing down some free-roaming receiver, trying to prevent a big play from turning into a really big play. It wasn't an encouraging display. Maybe everything clicks in his senior year, but as with Kevin Rutland at CB, I'll feel a little more encouraged if a younger player with more (you guessed it) upside overtakes him.
What's changed? Well, nobody's taken the strong safety job from Ricks yet. I hate sounding like I'm bagging on certain players, especially Ricks, who can make quite a few hits and nice, athletic plays if he's on the field long enough. Again, though, he just doesn't quite seem to have the cover skills or ball-reading skills I want from a SS, and I'm still hoping that Jarrell Harrison or Zaviar Gooden is able to overtake him when all is said and done. We'll see what happens. Harrison hasn't been around a lot, but just getting here for spring practices was a nice victory for him, and if he continues to get his footing through the rest of spring and into summer, there could be a pretty good battle in August.
What we do know for sure, though, is that reports on Kenji Jackson are thus far exactly what I was hoping to read. Like Sean Weatherspoon in 2007, it appears he's turned into a pretty solid unit leader despite being just a sophomore-to-be. He doesn't come in a William Moore-sized package--he's only about 5'10, 200 instead of 6'1, 225--but he's a playmaker, and if he continues to improve and lead this defense, I'll forgive him for not convincing his buddy Stepfan Taylor to sign with Mizzou (kidding, sort of...loved that kid's video).
Expected Spring Finish
1. Kenji Jackson (So)
2. Hardy Ricks (Sr)
3. Jarrell Harrison (Jr)
4. Zaviar Gooden (RSFr)
5. Del Howard (Sr)
It would make sense that, after 2009, at least one of the listed cornerbacks ends up making the move to safety to even out the two lists (though I guess some of that will depend if incoming freshman Donavan Bonner is able to keep the weight down enough to play safety, or if he ends up at linebacker...oh yeah, and if he's good enough to crack the two-deep this time next year). Either way, only two of the 11 guys listed above are seniors, and neither of them may be starting by the end of 2009.
(My "We could be really good in 2010-11" hints are getting less and less subtle.)