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Veterans, new blood in Mizzou’s secondary are ready to make some noise

Returning contributors, exciting transfers and celebrated recruits make up a deep defensive backfield.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 30 Missouri at Vanderbilt Photo by Matthew Maxey/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Believe it or not, we’re just a few weeks away from another season of Missouri Tiger football. As we do every summer, we’ve gathered the editorial staff to answer various questions about the different position groups across the roster.

T-minus 16 days, folks. Sixteen days until, “Fight Tiger,” rings out over the airwaves of ESPNU. Sixteen days until Big Mo welcomes September to Columbia and Truman rides around on his big red firetruck.

After a long summer of waiting, we’re in the final stretch of summer before Eli Drinkwitz and his Tigers welcome Louisiana Tech to town for some good old Thursday night ball. And while the roster is finally starting to iron out some kinks, we’ve still got questions about how the Tigers will shape up on that (hopefully) balmy Thursday evening. We’ve talked about QBs (congrats, Brady!), we’ve celebrated the wide receivers, we’ve salivated over the defensive line’s potential. Now it’s time to round out the defense with a thorough examination of the secondary.

Catch up with the rest of our roundtables before reading our thoughts on the defensive backfield!

After an uneven season, Mizzou fortified the secondary with new coaches, some transfers and a host of exciting recruits. Will these changes result in more consistent performance?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 09 North Texas at Missouri Photo by Rick Ulreich/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Nate Edwards: I wouldn’t count on it. The most important aspect of playing in the passing game - offense or defense - is experience and Missouri is a little light on experience when it comes to the cornerbacks. The safeties should be able to steady the ship at least a little bit but Manuel is better served being a run-enforcer rather than a pass defender. With KAD now playing on the outside, Rakestraw coming back from injury, and your third best option being a still-very-young-and-untested D.J. Jackson it’s hard to see consistency from the corners which will make the safety’s jobs that much harder.

Parker Gillam: I mean, yes all of this “new” is good, but it will take time to mesh. Much like last season, I expect a couple of iffy games to start the season as everybody figures out their roles and schemes.

All in all, I do see this unit improving immensely. The talent level has improved with the additions of Joseph Charleston from Clemson and Dreyden Norwood from Texas A&M, each of whom I think can turn into quality starters for this defense. I even think 4-star freshman Isaac Thompson could rise up the ranks at safety and compete for snaps with the first team if some of the starters don’t perform.

However, these are all pretty big “ifs”. I think the returning cast of Kris Abrams-Draine, Jaylon Carlies, Martez Manuel, and Ennis Raewkstraw is a solid group, but if less than 2 of these transfers/recruits don’t pan out, then this secondary won’t have the depth or talent to slow down the likes of Will Levis, Spencer Rattler, Stetson Bennett, KJ Jefferson, etc. On top of that, we must remember that the injury bug has plagued this group as well, something that is undefeated in preventing consistency.

Josh Matejka, Deputy Site Manager: Like many of the other positions on the roster, that seems to be the bet. Throw enough solutions at a problem and you’re bound to find the solution, right?

My TL;DR answer would probably be, “No, but consistency doesn’t equal greatness.” I don’t think we’re going to see Mizzou get torched week in and week out, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see them struggle with some of the upper tier offenses they’re due to face. As Nate pointed out, there are some good pieces in the safety group and Abrams-Draine has proven his mettle in the slot. But they’re still one healthy corner (Ennis Rakestraw, could it be you?) away from having a fully stocked group... and that’s before you get into the talented but young depth pieces. I think we’re going to see some high highs and some low lows.

It might be unfair to say that Mizzou’s secondary has underperformed, but it feels like quite a few players haven’t realized their full potential. Who takes that step in 2022?

Tennessee v Missouri Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Nate Edwards: Abrams-Draine proved himself as an elite slot corner, and I’m assuming/hoping that translates well on the outside so put me down for Rakestraw. The prized recruit from the ‘20 class was predictably inconsistent as a freshman and then injured for most of last year. Having him take a huge step in realizing his potential will provide a much-needed anchor in the cornerback rotation and a key cog to this defense taking a step forward from the end of last year.

Parker Gillam: If I’m a huge fan of Brady Cook on offense, then consider me an equally big fan of Kris Abrams-Draine. In the last six games of Mizzou’s 2021 campaign, I would swear that I noticed Abrams-Draine making big play after big play every time he was on the field. He was second on the team with 3 INTs in 2021, but I’ll go ahead and bet on him to lead Mizzou in that category with 5+ this fall. He’s got enough speed to keep up with any receiver the SEC throws at him, and he always seems to find himself around the ball. I’ll take Abrams-Draine to be an All-SEC Second Team performer this season and leave early for the NFL Draft. Book it.

Josh Matejka: It’s time for Ennis Rakestraw to put it all together. He took his lumps in 2020, as most freshman corners are supposed to. He was off to a promising start in 2021 before injury stole away a year of development. Now that he’s returning healthy and seemingly back in line for a starting job, he should have all the pieces. He’s got requisite experience, high end talent and more than enough grit. I’m a believer in Mizzou’s most enigmatic defender, who’s facing a textbook “make or break” season in Columbia.

Mizzou has a steady two-deep full of upperclassmen, but there are more than a few underclassmen in the wings. Could we see any rotation spots usurped in the final weeks of summer camp?

NCAA Football: North Texas at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Nate Edwards: The safety position seems fairly locked in, with Carlies and Charleston playing the top safeties and Manuel manning the “STAR” position. Corner is where the opportunity for young talent to break through and, though he is injured, I’d love to see Marcus Scott force his way into the rotation. The need is there and his pedigree coming out of high school was high and it would be great for one of these blue-chip recruits Drink brought in can consistently make an impact.

Parker Gillam: While Luther Burden got all the attention as the main St. Louis product from this past class, not enough people talked about Isaac Thompson. He was rated as the #15 safety by 24/7 Sports, and he had an offer from nearly every other SEC school. Thompson already got the size at 6’2”, 205 lbs. to compete in this conference, it will all just depend on how quickly he can grasp the scheme Blake Baker puts in for this 2022 defense.

And, outside of Martez Manuel, nobody in the secondary is necessarily a proven commodity. There is plenty of potential for Thompson to snag one of the starting safety spots if Charleston doesn’t pan out or Carlies regresses.

Regardless, the St. Louis University (HS) product has a lot of potential and will really benefit from learning behind a bunch of veterans, especially a team captain.

Josh Matejka: It sure does feel like we’re hearing a lot about Daylan Carnell, doesn’t it? We were big believers in Carnell last season, and yet he failed to make any meaningful contributions as a freshman. And while he won’t take over for Martez Manuel (barring injury), it feels like his name has come up quite a bit in that STAR position as we round the corner on September. If we’re looking for one of Drinkwitz’s promising recruits to step up in a big way, Carnell would certainly fit the bill.

Have any questions you want answered about different positions on the roster? Let us know in the comments and we’ll submit them to be included in our coming features!