The Missouri secondary was an interesting story last year. As far as defending the pass, the Tigers were solidly mediocre overall, excelling at stopping the short passing game (4th [!] in passing efficiency) but had a nasty tendency of giving up huge plays (77th in explosiveness). And while the defense as a whole was Top 20 in defending standard downs, they were consistently giving up yards on passing downs, again due to the explosive plays that the secondary would surrender...and that was with a secondary full of experience.
Now? DeMarkus Acy graduated and Christian Holmes transferred to Oklahoma State, leaving late-blooming Jarvis Ware and the quiet Adam Sparks to lead a cornerback room chock full of underclassmen. There’s a big name and a lot of youth that can work their way into the rotation, but none of it has been proven, so there will be heavy reliance on potential. Let’s walk through the cornerback roster:
Ware played a lot and avoided a redshirt in 2018 but it was mostly in situational packages, blow outs, and special teams. Last year he broke through and played 11 games, starting in 10, and only missed the West Virginia game because of an injury. He was sixth on the defense in tackles (1st among corners), and added in a few run stuffs as well. I think most of the Missouri fandom views him as a penalty machine that had to make more tackles since he was worse at pass coverage. Well...I can’t disprove that, per se, but what I can prove is that he had better yards per play than Christian Holmes (9.8 vs. 12.6) and was better at limiting explosive plays than Holmes (0.0 vs. 0.46). I don’t think any team would build their secondary around a player like Ware, but he’s a solid, experienced piece in a position that typically does better with experience. Hopefully he can build on last year and continue to show some improvement...while cutting out a few of those pesky penalties.
Remember in 2017 when Adam Sparks beat out Logan Cheadle as a freshman and we all thought he would be the next best thing? And then he got injured in ‘17 and ‘18 and kind of just...stopped being on the field? Maybe that was a product of being part of the Odom Tigers, but it is frustrating that he hasn’t really had a lot of opportunities to build off of whatever raw talent he showed as a freshman.
He actually had a decent year last year when he was on the field, cutting down his yards/play nearly in half, but it was almost always as a nickel or situational corner rather a full-time starter. Given his experience with Walters and Gibbs, he’ll probably have right-of-first-refusal at the corner spot opposite Ware, but it would be better for the long term defensive development if he stayed as a situational corner and let one of the younger guys command the starting corner spot.
Chris Mills & Chris Shearin
Two corners. Both named Chris. Both have one tackle in their respective careers. The difference is that Shearin was heavily used in special teams, whereas Mills was recovering from a knee injury most of last year. Both will have an opportunity to contribute, and if there’s any benefit from being in the Walters system, they should be able to see the field in at least nickel packages, if not a starter role. I feel confident that one of the Chris’s will find himself in the rotation, but I think we’re all looking forward to a certain guy from the next pairing to make a big breakthrough.
Ennis Rakestraw & J.C. Carlies
Arguably the biggest get of the 2020 recruiting class, Drinkwitz proved his recruiting chops early by nabbing the services of the late-blooming Rakestraw from the likes of blue blood programs Alabama and Texas. Rakestraw might be a little light, even for a corner, but his ability to shut down receivers and his extreme athleticism shows a lot of potential that plenty of teams wanted to utilize. However, don’t overlook J.C. Carlies, the corner who “earned his number” before any other freshman member of the secondary. Carlies was a receiver in high school but clearly feels just as much at home at corner, considering the staff always wanted to move him there. I think it’s safe to say that we all want to see Rakestraw make it on the field immediately and show all the talent that every program in the country wanted; in the end, though, we should all just hope that both of these guys can contribute immediately so that the secondary can quickly become a strength. BK has pointed out several times on the podcast that Missouri doesn’t have a strong history of standout corners; if these two want to start that tradition that would be good with me.
What would dumb Nate do?
Ware on one side, Rakestraw on the other. Mizzou made waves when it nabbed the highly coveted Texan, so let’s throw him into the fire on offense’s best receiver to have him get his lumps in during a season that doesn’t matter and prepare him for the future.
What will actually happen?
Ware and Sparks start, Rakestraw and Carlies rotate in, the Chris’s are backups/special teamers.