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Roster Reset: Mizzou has more questions than answers at safety

Martez Manuel will start at one safety spot. Who else will earn a starting position?

NCAA Football: Louisiana State at Missouri Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s spring ball time!

With spring practice officially kicking off, it’s time to take a look at which players are back, which players are gone and which players the Tigers have added since the end of the 2020 season.

We kicked things off with the quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, offensive line, defensive end, defensive tackle, linebackers and cornerbacks. Let’s finish things off with a look at the safeties.

Safety Reset:

Returning:

  • Mason Pack (Senior)
  • Shawn Robinson (Senior)
  • Stacy Brown (Junior)
  • Aiden Harrison (Junior)
  • Martez Manuel (Junior)
  • Jalani Williams (Sophomore)
  • Tyler Jones (Sophomore)

Arriving:

Returning Player Analysis:

It’s been a minute since the Tigers went into a season without Joshuah Bledsoe or Tyree Gillespie as the expected starters on the back end of the defense. This team is going to miss those two. Bledsoe really put it all together as a deep safety the last couple seasons. Bledsoe was a jack of all trades who could line up at linebacker, deep safety or in the slot and could perform well no matter what was asked of him.

Alas, their time is up and the new leader at the position will be former Columbia Rock Bridge standout Martez Manuel.

Manuel really came into his own in the second half of last season. He’s at his best playing in the box, so it’s going to be important for guys like Stacy Brown and Jalani Williams to pick things up on the back end.

It’s hard to know for sure who else could step up. Will former quarterback Shawn Robinson find his way into the mix? Will Tyler Hibbler be ready to go as a true freshman? Could one of the Tigers’ dozen corners transition to safety? Any of the above are possible. That’s what spring ball is all about.

New Arrival to Keep an Eye on:

Well, there’s only one option, but he’s a heck of a player to watch. Hibbler is your classic “thumper” at safety. He’s going to meet receivers across the middle with the intention of separating the player from the ball. He’s going to run the alley to lay out a running back.

Hibbler is listed at 6-foot-1 and 185 pounds, but he plays bigger than that listed height and weight. It’s going to be an uphill climb for him to get on the field right away, but he’s someone who could theoretically serve as another box safety if anything were to happen to Manuel, or if Manuel is forced into another role at some point this season.

Position Battle to Watch:

Who will win the jobs left behind by Bledsoe and Gillespie? And will those jobs exist the same way they did a year ago? Both are open-ended questions. New defensive coordinator Steve Wilks likes to play a 4-2-5 defense. That typically consists of four defensive linemen, two linebackers, three corners (including a “slot” corner) and two safeties.

Does that mean only two safeties will see the field the majority of the time? Maybe. Another option is for Wilks to utilize Manuel as a linebacker in the team’s base defense.

Manuel’s usage will likely determine the position battle worth watching. If he uses Manuel as a traditional safety, there’s one more starting safety spot open with Williams and Brown as the leading contenders for that opening.

Bottom Line:

There is very little settled at safety. There are at least four or five candidates for one or two starting positions. Manuel is the only safety who should go into the spring with his spot written in ink. Everything else is up for grabs.

Don’t rule out some of the corners also getting a look at safety, too. This is a new defensive system and Wilks loves to send blitzes. Having a couple strong coverage safeties on the field is something I would think WIlks will prioritize.

There are certainly some questions at linebacker and along the defensive line going into the season. But no defensive position has more up for grabs going into the spring than safety.