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Recruiting Reset: Phillip Roche looks like Mizzou’s next STAR for Blake Baker’s defense

Blake Baker’s defense features a “star,” and Phillip Roche fits the prototype.

High school recruiting is all about projection. If this player reaches his ceiling, what can he be? Sure, he was able to do this in high school, but what does it look like when he’s going against players with SEC speed and size? For that reason, it’s exciting when Missouri adds a player who needs very little projecting.

Phillip Roche is straight out of central casting for Mizzou’s “STAR” position.

Roche, a 3-star athlete out of Merrillville, Indiana, officially committed to the Tigers last week. He chose Mizzou over reported offers from Boston College, Cincinnati, Indiana, Nebraska and Purdue. He is Missouri’s 12th known commit in the 2023 class. If that sounds light, that’s because it is - at least relative to recent years - but there might be an explanation for such a small high school class. Missouri is in need of instant upgrades at certain positions, and it’s possible (likely?) that the staff will turn to the transfer portal again to plug some of those positions of need. The other complicating factor in this class is the extra Covid year. It’s hard to say for certain how many of Missouri’s current players will or will not be back next year. So, it makes the roster math a little dicey.

What it amounts to is Rivals’ 56th ranked recruiting class. Context is key. The only other teams in the top 60 with 12 or fewer commits are Texas A&M (17th), Ole Miss (41st), Auburn (43rd) and UCF (58th). Missouri’s average commit in this class comes out to a 3.25 star player, which ranks 27th nationally and would rank as the third best average star rating for an individual Mizzou recruiting class in the Rivals era, behind only last year’s class and the 2010 class. In other words, despite a decrease in quantity, the quality remains in this year’s class.

Roche is no exception. Let’s get into what he brings to the table.

Where he fits: As I mentioned previously, it’s not hard to see where Roche fits into this defense. He’s listed as an “athlete,” but his role in Missouri’s defense will be playing the “STAR” position currently manned by Martez Manuel and Daylan Carnell.

That role is not easy to fill. It requires the ability to fill gaps against the run, blitz the quarterback, take on pulling blockers and, oh by the way, you also need to have the ability to cover a slot receiver or a tight end. Finding such a player is incredibly difficult. That’s a rare skill-set. But Missouri’s coaching staff has two on the roster, and another on the way.

The first thing that stands out about Roche is his fearlessness. He uses his body like it’s a heat-seeking missile. He’s completely unafraid to lay a big hit on a pulling blocker to blow up a play. He also shows the ability to come off the edge as a pass rusher. He’s a fun player, and he’ll fit in nicely in this attacking style defense.

When he’ll play: This is where it gets a little tougher to project. Is Manuel coming back? I would doubt it, but he technically still has another year if he wants to use it. If we assume he decides to move on, his replacement will almost certainly be Carnell. Carnell’s backup would be up in the air. A true freshman coming in and contributing in the defensive backfield is hard to assume, but Roche would have every opportunity to earn that role in the two deep.

What it all means: The Tigers landed a player who fits their defensive scheme and continues to add size, speed and length to their defensive backfield - just as they like. This was a no-brainer from their perspective, and it’s nice to see the Tigers having more success in the state of Indiana where they’ve received commits in recent seasons from fellow “STAR” Daylan Carnell, and defensive end Kyran Montgomery.