You can never have too many players on defense who impact the quarterback. That appears to be the mentality for Missouri’s coaching staff, and I appreciate it. If you missed the news last week, the Tigers got a commitment from former Florida cornerback Tre’Vez Johnson.
The former 3-star cornerback from Jacksonville has seen significant snaps in all three seasons he’s spent in Gainesville. His coverage ability has consistently improved, according to Pro Football Focus. This past season he allowed 25 receptions for 280 yards and one touchdown on 36 total targets. He also pulled down an interception and broke up two passes. He has only been called for two penalties in his college career.
In other words, the Tigers added a 3-year SEC contributor with two years of eligibility remaining. Not bad, eh?
The Tigers have been hitting the portal hard over the past two seasons in order to overhaul their defensive backfield. Marcus Clarke (Miami), Dreyden Norwood (Texas A&M) and Joseph Charleston (Clemson) each saw significant action last year after transferring to Columbia. The same is expected to be true for Johnson. But where will he play? And how does he fit into the Tigers’ defense?
Where he fits: This is where this commitment gets interesting, in my opinion. Some have called Johnson a safety. I don’t think that’s a fair classification. He played the “STAR” position at Florida, but the Gators’ version of that position is quite different than Blake Baker’s. The Tigers’ version is a hybrid linebacker/safety/slot defender. The Gators’ version is... well, a slot defender.
Pro Football Focus can help us describe this in a better way. For Johnson, 365 of his 450 snaps in 2022 came in the slot. Nearly 88 percent of his 1,000 career snaps have come in the slot. Martez Manuel, the Tigers’ starting STAR last season, finished with 500 snaps. Approximately half of those snaps came in the box. They are different positions with different roles in two very different defenses.
TL;DR - Johnson is a cornerback. But he is a traditional “slot” cornerback, typically covering the smaller and quicker players lining up in the slot.
Tre'Vez Johnson with a beautiful pick after Kentucky puts Joey Gatewood in at QB pic.twitter.com/qk3pN50Ax8— libgator (@lib_gator) November 28, 2020
And that’s why this decision is so interesting to me. Missouri doesn’t utilize their cornerbacks out of the slot very often. Rakestraw had the most true “slot” snaps among Missouri’s cornerbacks last year with an average of 10 snaps in the slot per game. The Tigers typically utilized their safeties and STAR defenders for that role.
Does that change in 2023? It could. Daylan Carnell is at his best when he’s in the box. Does he come out of the game for Johnson on obvious passing downs? Do the Tigers consider a heavier rotation at cornerback in 2023 to keep everyone fresh? These are the questions we’ll be monitoring early in the season.
When he’ll play: Johnson committed to the Tigers with the expectation that he will play early and often. He has two years of eligibility remaining, and he just spent last season as a starter for Florida. He didn’t come to Missouri to sit on the bench and watch others play. He had options, and he ended up with Mizzou. The Tigers’ coaching staff has a clear plan for how they will utilize him, and I’m sure they shared that plan with Johnson while he was on campus. I can’t wait to see what that plan looks like.
What it all means: Teams can never have too many players with the ability impact the passing game, and the Tigers just added another SEC caliber defensive back for 2023 (and likely 2024). If you had told me a month ago that Missouri would find a way to bring back Darius Robinson, Ty’Ron Hopper, Abrams-Draine, Jaylon Carlies and Rakestraw while also adding another SEC starter to the defensive backfield, well, I flat out would not have believed you.
Last offseason was about adding talent to the defensive side of the ball. This year has been about retaining the talent already on the roster while filing specific holes. Eli Drinkwitz is off to a heck of a start in that regard.
Now let’s get to work on adding another pass rusher or two.