COLUMBIA, Mo. — University of Missouri defensive coordinator DeMontie Cross spoke with reporters at the conclusion of the first practice on Thursday and touched on a variety of topics.
Here’s a transcript of that question-and-answer session with the new coach in charge of the Tigers’ talented defense…
Who have you seen step up as leaders of the defense, besides Charles Harris?
Cross: “Mike Scherer. Hands down he is the heartbeat and leader of that team from the linebacker corps all the way through the back row as well. I think Thomas Wilson, Anthony Sherrils have stepped it up quite a bit for what they are doing and then (Donavin) Newsom. I just think those are probably the key guys that have really had summers, been consistent in what they’ve done in workouts and those are going to be our leaders without a doubt.”
Do you get a sense from these guys there’s now an expectation level of where they’ve set the bar?
Cross: “I told the guys we have to live up to our expectations, not so much the media, the conference, any of those things. We know what we’re capable of and if we can meet those goals and expectations of ours then we’ll be just fine. To sit here and say we’re going to be just as good as we were last year? We will if we work, but it doesn’t come just showing up and rolling your helmet out here. You have to work and today was a good test for that.”
Cross: “That’s Coach Odom’s decision. I think he’s only going to make the best decisions for our team and we all back him as a coaching staff, without a doubt. You never want to see any young man out of your program. We’re here to try to help mold them and teach them things and get them educated, so for those guys not to be part of us, it’s not just as easy as moving on but we can’t lose focus of our team and this defense in particular. We just have to rally around each other and I think that’s what has happened since guys have reported back.”
Is Michael Scherer seeing this as an opportunity to seize more of spotlight with Kentrell Brothers moving on?
Cross: “I’m hoping he makes the plays he’s supposed to make. I don’t want him to press thinking he has to replace all the plays that Kentrell made last year, but just do his job. And if he does, he’ll make enough plays. We’ve designed enough things and done enough things for him and he’s just got to be consistent in what he does and that’s (being) a student of the game. That’s definitely his asset. So he’s done that and he’s picked up where he left off and I’m excited to watch him play this year.”
How has Rickey Hatley done?
Cross: “He’s definitely the other leader up front, especially on the inside with the D-tackles. He’s done everything that’s been asked of this new staff. Very, very proud of him and we’re hoping he can come have a breakout year for himself as well. But just overall that D-line is relentless and what a great way to come into Mizzou with a D-line like that. I’m excited for those guys. They have their own goals, their own expectations and they work every day to live up to that. It’s real. It’s not hype. But he’s definitely a guy that I’ve been excited to watch grow in this scheme and what he’s doing. And the other guy is Thomas Wilson. I would put him in that same category as kind of under the radar. He’s really been consistent every day that he’s shown up here.”
Are you happy with where Terry Beckner is, health-wise, coming off his knee injury?
Cross: “He made a few plays out here that made me go ‘woah.’ We didn’t sit him out in the spring. There was one play in particular today where he met in the backfield with a back and I stood up, like who was that? But he’s an explosive, high-talent, high-motor type of kid and we just have to get him grooved back in coming off that injury and make sure we pace him the right way.”
How nice it is having so much depth on the defensive line?
Cross: “We lost two guys that we had, but it’s nice to know that there are two other guys or three other guys that can step up and fill in that role and that normally doesn’t happen in college football anymore. It’s just, again, a testament to what’s been built here and we’re going to try to keep that tradition going but those guys work harder than any group out here and rightfully so because they deserve all the credit that they’ve been given.”
How tough was it losing Brantley and Brady and how does that affect the defensive line group?
Cross: “Those guys were emotional leaders in their own right, especially Harold. (It’s) tough. It’s a lot bigger than just football, too, but those guys both had special roles and you just don’t replace that. But we have to find a way to do it as a group. If those guys weren’t as strong as they are, it would be even harder, but I’m trusting in them, I’m believing in our leaders up front to rally the troops there. It’s one of their guys that’s not with them anymore, so their is a void there.”
Was it hard breaking the news to the team?
Cross: “Coach Odom handled it the right way. We’re not going to hide behind anything. He made what he thought was the best decision for the team and the guys believe in Coach Odom and we’re going to back Coach Odom. He believe he’s doing the right thing for the team and there’s no one here that’s second guessing that at all. Not one person. Even if it’s tough and you don’t know why ultimately he’s making the best decision for our team.”
Is Tyrell Jacobs back on defense? What went into that decision?
Cross: “Yes he is. He didn’t do as well as we thought on that side of the ball and we thought we better get him back. We’ve got a couple guys coming off injury and we need to make sure that we have enough depth, building not only for this year but for the future. We thought it would be best suited for him to go back.”
Is the starting cornerback spot opposite Aarion Penton wide open? Is T.J. Warren emerging as that guy?
Cross: “It is wide open and T.J.’s come back. We left that way, we’re going to start that way. We’re going to make guys earn positions out here and he’s done good for today, but it’s wide open. We’re making sure we continue to challenge Aarion, too. He is our best corner — I’ve told him that — but I want to make sure he’s working and hungry because his ceiling is so much higher than what he’s played to at this point. So we’re going to continue to challenge and push him and hopefully we can find a second guy that can play at his level.”
What about Thomas Wilson and the free safety spot?
Cross: “Thomas Wilson has probably been the most consistent guy in the secondary. Hands down. He’s done it the right way just about every practice, every rep, and so he’s the bar to me that the guys I’m expecting to raise their level to his level right now in that back end. It’s really not a rotation for him at that spot right now. I’m excited for him. I like Cam (Hilton) being there. We’ve got a couple young guys we’re going to look at. And Anthony Sherrils is doing a good job. He was a little slow in the spring but he came on strong toward the end. He’s really starting to take off as a leader at that spot.”
How tough has Cam Hilton’s position switch been?
Cross: “He just wants to find a home and we’re hoping selfishly on defense that’s it. He’s embraced that role. He’s said, ‘Coach, I want to help the team’ and I believe the young man. He’s come over, he’s been a defensive guy. He hasn’t talked about offense one time. But if they need him and they need to use him I’m sure we’re open to that. But he’s really come on and we just have to keep him healthy. He had a couple hamstring issues that kind of slowed him a little bit this spring but I’m proud of his progress coming back.”
Is anybody separating themselves at the other starting defensive end spot opposite Harris with Brady gone?
Cross: “Walter was the starter. Hands down. Him and Charles were our two starting defensive ends and now that spot is open. We’ve got three or four guys that are going to compete for it and we need to make sure that everybody’s not sliding toward Charles. We need another threat over there and someone will step up.”
Who are the three or four guys?
Cross: “You’ve got Spencer (Williams), you’ve got Marcell (Frazier), you’ve got Nate (Howard), who’s coming off a little bit of a knee injury, and then you also have (Jordan) Harold and we also have Tre Williams. We’re going to try to find a way to get Tre Williams in there. We’re going to look at all of those guys early on, first couple practices, first couple of scrimmages, and the best guy will earn that spot for sure.”
Is there urgency now having to face West Virginia in the season opener?
Cross: “I can’t continue to impress enough upon our guys the tempo that those guys go at, the speed they play at, the continuity that they have, and so it’s going to take us being on our game, being assignment-sound, being lined up, to even have a chance to go in there and win the game, just to be in it. I’m pressing upon the guys that this team is a well-oiled machine and we’re going to have to play our A game to even have a chance to go in there and get a win.”
Would you prefer it that way or rather play an FCS opponent Week 1?
Cross: “We’re in the SEC conference. We want to play the best. Our kids want nothing less than that. Our coaching staff wants nothing less than that. So we’re going to play each opponent that’s on our schedule.”
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