Eli Drinkwitz finally has his new defensive coordinator, as the hiring of Corey Batoon was made official over the weekend. While Drinkwitz has yet to announce a spring practice schedule, we know historically that he prefers to start (and finish) spring practice season early to maximize staff time recruiting the portal.
Batoon will need to hit the ground running if he hopes to have his ducks in a row by the time practice starts (presumably) in February. While there are myriad things an incoming defensive coordinator must accomplish when newly arriving to an established staff and roster, here are the top three priorities Batoon must make now that he’s boots-on-the ground in Columbia.
Priority #1: Connect with Current Players
In the age of the transfer portal (and now penalty-free double transfers), it is more important than ever to re-recruit the current roster every year. Despite losing multiple NFL draft picks off the defense, Mizzou is still slated to return plenty of talent in 2024, including exciting transfers like Darris Smith, Sterling Webb and Toriano Pride. The top priority for Batoon needs to be connecting with all incoming and returning defensive players to establish a positive working relationship.
The entire Mizzou defensive roster had intended on playing next year under Blake Baker (minus Zion Young, who committed after Baker left.) It is vital for Batoon to communicate to the roster how each individual player will fit into his system and outline a plan of success for each one. Because even incoming transfers can transfer back out after spring practice if they are unimpressed, locking the roster down early will go a long way in setting the defense up for success in 2024. With the loss of talent to the NFL and graduation after 2023, losing even a couple players off the current roster could spell major concern for the unit’s depth next year.
Priority #2: Hire an EDGE coach (quickly)
With the departure of Kevin Peoples to LSU along with Blake Baker, there is still a hole on Drinkwitz’s defensive staff. It’s presumed that Batoon will coach the safeties, as Baker did, since was one of Batoon’s responsibilities at South Alabama. That leaves an opening for a defensive line coach who works directly with defensive ends/EDGE defenders.
Eli Drinkwitz will certainly have final say on whomever is hired, however it is important for Batoon to have input on the new coach to ensure alignment on philosophy and scheme throughout the staff. It is important to not only hire a good fit for the position, but to hire that person quickly.
Since Batoon’s top priority must be locking down his current roster, an important aspect of that goal will be to get a coach in place to start building rapport with the defensive ends. Highly talented players like incoming five-star freshman Williams Nwaneri, the established returner Johnny Walker, Jr., and transfers Darris Smith and Zion Young will play a huge part in any success Batoon’s defense will have in 2024 (and beyond.) It will be impossible to make those players feel truly comfortable in Batoon’s system without a position coach in place.
Further, the new coach, as with all the defensive position coaches, will need time before the start of spring practice to learn the intricacies of Batoon’s system. Which brings us to:
Priority #3: Teach, Learn and Adapt
This may seem like three separate priorities, and perhaps it is, but Corey Batoon’s ability to achieve all three in first two months on the job will set the floor for how well the Mizzou defense will play next year.
Batoon must teach his new system and any new terminology to his coaches and players quickly. The spring practice season is vital for player development and skill building, but it will be difficult to develop players’ skill level if they are still trying to gain a basic hold on the playbook. While at first blush it appears that Batoon runs a system similar to Baker’s in terms of its aggressive style, it’s possible that the terminology could be very different. Learning to speak the same football language as the rest of the team will be important if the Tigers hope to experience any significant player development this off season.
Similarly, the spring practice season is important for roster evaluation moving into summer workouts. However, it is difficult to evaluate a player, not to mention an entire roster, if those players are still learning a new system. Certainly part of that evaluation should be a player’s ability to learn and adapt quickly, but with such large defensive roster turnover this off season, there will be significant battles for spots on the two-deep for just about every position on the field. Batoon needs to prioritize learning everything he can about his current roster’s strengths and weaknesses and any roster holes that exist to determine how he must:
If Batoon rolls into Columbia hoping to run the exact same scheme with the exact same tendencies as he did at South Alabama, then the defense is destined to take a step back next fall. While he will experience an overall upgrade in talent coming to Mizzou, that doesn’t mean that his personnel in black and gold will have the same strengths as the players he coached in Mobile. After teaching his team and learning more about them, Batoon must prioritize adapting his scheme to the players he has right now. That is not to say he can’t eventually run his own personal brand of defense down the road, but that might require additional roster construction that the current calendar will not allow.
One silver lining to the current calendar is that there will be another portal season after spring practice. Once Batoon determines where he wants to fill roster holes, he can get a jump start on any needed roster overhaul by bringing in more new faces this April and May. But first things first: Let’s hope Batoon can connect well enough with the current faces to keep them all in Columbia until September.