Moving on Without Pig Brown
"How'd you drop that interception," Brown asked from his bed, smiling.
One day after a suffering a ruptured Achilles tendon that will cost him the rest of what was shaping up as a storybook senior season, Brown was in good spirits and already preparing for his new role – leading by presence, but not example. If ever there were a thumbnail sketch of the characteristics that led teammates to vote Brown a team captain despite his status as a freshly arrived junior college transfer, this was it.
"Pig told me one thing, and that's over-prepare. So that's what I'm gonna do this week, is over-prepare and be overly ready to go," Williams said.
"He's in great spirits. It's kind of surprising for him to be how he is … He's just ready to get out here and get into the role of vocal leader, not being out there on the field."
Brown came to Mizzou as a mid-tier prospect according to the scouting services. He was a two-star prospect after his sophomore year at Reedley (Calif.) Junior College, where he'd gone after a stellar high school career in Adel, Ga. He'd planned to play for Division II Valdosta State in Georgia, but needed to tidy his academics. At the same time, he continue to develop physically and began to catch the eyes of Division I recruiters. Mizzou's coaches were wowed by him when they went to Reedley to look at other players.
Though not blessed with great size – out of pads he appears smaller than his listed 195 pounds -- or blazing speed, Brown had a knack for knowing where the play was headed and getting there in a blur.
"Football is a game of quickness and a game of anticipation," MU defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus said. "I've always said this and I'll say it to the die I die – in football, it's better to be quick than fast, and that kid is cat quick … That kid is as quick as there is."
He quietly committed to Mizzou early in his sophomore year, and later, when other major conference schools like Texas Tech and Oregon began calling, he never flinched on his commitment. He had a solid season in his first year at Missouri, posting 40 tackles in part-time duty.
But this year was the coming out party for Brown, who moved into the starting free safety spot and earned national defensive player of the week honors after carrying MU to a win in the season opener against Illinois, when he returned a fumble for a 101-yard touchdown and made a game-ending interception.
"Pig was tremendous. Pig set a real high standard," said sophomore Del Howard, who along with junior Justin Garrett, is tasked with replacing Brown.
Strong safety "William Moore's gonna pick up the slack. I'm gonna try to help, we're all going to try to bring the whole secondary up."
Head coach Gary Pinkel said, "People have to step up. That's the name of the game all across the country … In my business, you cross them off and move on.
"I think we're still going to play the game," Pinkel said, after taking a fifth or sixth question about the loss of Brown. "Ad we'll never have excuses, ever."
But it will be difficult, if not impossible, to replace the production of Brown, who was No. 8 in the Big 12 in tackles, ninth in tackles for loss, tied for fifth in interceptions and tied for second in fumble recoveries. Also a powerful hitter, he undoubtedly had a few opposing wide receivers questioning the risk-return ration of going over the middle for a pass.
And perhaps most important, his hard-charging, heady play inspired teammates.
In his absence, Williams will be looked to for leadership even more than the outspoken captain already was before.
"It doesn't need to be said. I talked to a few guys – I talked to Del and Justin Garrett and they're ready, man, they're ready to step into that situation," Williams said.
"I rally everybody anyways. That wasn't really ever Pig's forte, talking in front of a lot of people. He was just more of the, ‘I'm going out there and I'm going to get twenty tackles a game and I'm gonna show you how to play football."
Shortly after Brown's injury, Pinkel decided to amend his previously ironclad rule preventing players from traveling if they are unable to play. Brown will be able to travel with the team, Pinkel said, because he is a senior who is out for the season. In reality, though, the coach is well aware of Brown's role in the team's chemistry; the rule adjustment was merely a way of satisfying media questions about the exception, he all but admitted Monday.
"Maybe," he said with a wry smile, "it will go down as the ‘Pig Rule.'"
Injuries like this are the reason Mizzou's staff pays a lot of effort to getting plenty of reps for backup players, especially during fall camp. Eberflus also makes certain to ‘cross-train' his defensive backs, meaning free safeties, cornerbacks and strong safeties take turns at each position. Howard is a converted cornerback, and corners Kevin Rutland and Hardy Ricks have been moved to safety as well.
"We always make sure to rotate guys in practice," Eberflus said. If something happens, then hopefully you did a good job … It's for situations like this. This is a violent game.
"We're real confident about those guys coming in there and making plays for us." Brown, meantime, will be trying to make his presence felt on the sideline.
"Pig's such a positive guy that I think his influence will still be there. Because he's still gonna be at practice, he's still gonna be with the team, on the sideline and all that stuff," Eberflus said. "I think his energy will still be seen and projected into our team."
"We have a real close relationship and I'm so proud of what he's been able to accomplish this year -- coming in here with a banner year, being Big 12 player of the week twice, being national player of the year for that first week. Just something you really want to see from a senior," Eberlfus continued.
"Pig knows I love him to death. I love him like my son."
The other theme at media day was the lack of production by senior wideout Will Franklin, who has 13 catches for 140 yards and no touchdowns in the past three games, and who had one catch – along with a two-point conversion reception – against Iowa State.
Pinkel said opposing teams have been sliding their coverage toward Franklin, who is third on the team in catches and yards. Franklin's quiet stretch was among the first things discussed in the offensive coaches' meeting Sunday.
"The thing about Will is, attitude-wise, he's such a team player. But we've got to get him the ball, there's no question about it," Pinkel said.
It's not that quarterback Chase Daniel isn't trying to get the ball to Franklin, who had 800-plus yards and six touchdowns last year, garnering projections as a mid-round NFL Draft pick.
"Believe me, I've been looking for him. He's the ‘X' receiver for a reason. But it's hard to get him when they're double and triple-covering him. Sometimes the media members don't realize and they say hey, we're not throwing to him," Daniel said.
"It's what defenses are taking away, and it's why [Martin Rucker] and Chase[Coffman] are having the years they are … If they want to take an extra guy out of the box to cover Will, we'll run the ball, we'll throw it to J-Mac and Tommy and all of these receivers we have. But without a doubt, it will definitely be a conscious effort of mine and the coaching staff [to get Franklin the ball more often]."
Franklin said he isn't concerned even slightly about his numbers.
"I'm doing those things to help the team win. And if that's going down there and blocking, catching one or two passes a game and we still win by fourteen, fifteen points, then I'll do that the rest of the season," he said.
"It's something I set in my goals. No matter what, the more we win, the more exposure our team gets. And the more exposure us as seniors – me, Ruck and the other guys – get. That's what's important, to win games. And everything else will work for the best."
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