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Rock M Roundtable: Is the secondary as good as advertised?

Mizzou has two veteran safeties and potential at corner. Could the secondary be a strength of the Tiger defense?

NCAA Football: Missouri at Vanderbilt Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Well, folks, we made it. We’re officially in game week.

As we’ve spent the past few weeks previewing the 2020 Mizzou Tigers — and sometimes openly wondering if we’d ever get to this point — we’ve covered this team every which way and backwards. From the unsure QB situation and two-headed RB tandem, to the unproven group of WRs, to the struggling lines, to the All-American and his crew... our writers have tackled all the questions I’ve thrown at them and given you the answers.

As we count the hours and minutes until kickoff against Alabama, though, we’ve still got one position left: Mizzou’s most experienced position group on the defense, and maybe on the entire team.

While Mizzou’s secondary should be pretty talented and experienced overall, safeties Tyree Gillespie and Joshuah Bledsoe have received the majority of the attention over the summer. How will their presence aid the Mizzou defense in their senior seasons?

Missouri v Kentucky Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Jacob Giancola, Lead Football Beat Writer: Tyree Gillespie and Joshuah Bledsoe are going to be a staple of Mizzou’s defense this year and are certainly the leaders of the Tigers’ secondary. As seasoned veterans, these two should know what to expect, especially with an all-conference schedule. Expect Bledsoe to standout and make big plays in all forms of pass coverage and Gillespie to knock a few receivers on the turf this season.

Kortay Vincent, Football Beat Writer: The experience at safety will play a vital role this season, even more so than usual. With an all-SEC schedule, each week will be a grind where defense and leadership will be at a premium. Tyree and Josh will be able to fill both of those needs for this team. They will be the leaders of the secondary and our defense as a whole, most likely, while also filling the role as the guys that younger players look to for how to handle themselves and be an SEC football player. In short, they will be near essential to a successful season for our Tigers.

Aaron Dryden, Staff Football Writer: I think that both have the potential of doing some real damage this season as safeties who are long, athletic and aren’t afraid to step down in the box and hit people. Gillespie and Bledsoe were tied for second and third in tackles last season respectfully. They can hit, and actually like it.

I think that in this especially weird season, any sense of continuity is gonna be really valuable and this duo is going into the season with a combined 58 games of experience between the two of them. They’ll also be coached by the defensive coordinator (one of the few holdovers of the previous staff) himself on what he is expecting. They should be the backbone of what should be an experienced secondary.

Not to be outdone, Mizzou’s cornerbacks are an experienced group, mostly through trial by fire. Who are your picks to lead the defense when it comes to covering the SECs wideouts?

Missouri v Georgia Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

Jacob Giancola: Arguably the most equipped to lockdown SEC receivers this year is Jarvis Ware. At six-foot-one, Ware is the ideal size and length for an efficient corner. The potential Ware has shown is certainly exciting. Additionally, keep an eye on the hard-hitting senior, Adam Sparks. Sparks actually started his freshman year but missed a lot of games after being riddled with injuries. When he’s fully healthy, however, he’s definitely capable of making big plays.

Kortay Vincent: When looking at the corner spot for this season, I think that the contributors will be a mixture of upperclassmen and new young guns. As for the older guys who will likely shoulder most of the load, I think you have to look to a couple of guys with quite a bit of game experience. Adam Sparks and Jarvis Ware are the most game proven pair of the returners and will surely be two of the guys tasked with following around the SEC’s best on the outside.

Aaron Dryden: I think that Sparks and Ware will get the first crack, but Rakestraw is gonna get a good share of snaps. From the sounds of camp, he’s earned that right. On that same note, someone else I would keep an eye out for is the other corner from Duncanville, Stacey Brown. He’s a big 6’2 corner who got snaps at DB last season, and showed some promise. He’s a sophomore, and could fit the mold of what could be some extremely interesting depth at corner.

The secondary currently has five freshmen amongst its ranks, some of whom have constituted Mizzou’s biggest recruiting wins in the past five years. Which of the more prominent names could you see justifying the hype around their commitments?

Jacob Giancola: On the younger side, we have the IMG Academy graduate, Chris Shearin. Shearin will be a sophomore this year, so expect his playing time to gradually increase. Ishmael Burdine is another underclassman whose playing time could be on the rise. The lengthy Louisiana native certainly has all the right tools to grow into a top tier corner. And lastly, there’s the young gun, Ennis Rakestraw, Jr. As one of — if the not the biggest recruit in the freshmen class — Rakestraw is going to be a very exciting player to watch grow over time. Many consider Rakestraw already to be the most gifted defensive back on Mizzou’s roster.

Kortay Vincent: The name I’ve repeatedly heard from guys on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball is Ennis Rakestraw. While I know this is probably going to be a lot of people’s bet as to which freshman will step up, I think there’s a reason why everyone thinks Rake is going to be an early contributor. When you get praise from your peers and your competitors, that’s validation to me of just how much you contribute. Look for Ennis to develop into a big time contributor as the season progresses.

Aaron Dryden: I think everyone is expecting Ennis Rakestraw to get a good amount of playing time, but I’m going to throw another lesser known name out there. After an injury filled freshman season, I think there’s a chance we could see Ishmael Burdine play a little bit. Initially ranked a four star by ESPN and 247, he was forced out of time last season due to an injury. I think he profiles as someone to make a leap if he can stay healthy. Depth is certainly going to be tested this season.