The Missouri Tiger secondary will not be remembered fondly for their play during the 2008 season. Instead, Tiger fans will remember everything from Illini receivers running free to Justin Garrett getting burned on fourth down against Kansas. It is with these thoughts in mind that the Tiger defensive backs head into preparation for the 2009 season.
Gone from the 2008 version of the Tiger's secondary are safeties William Moore and Justin Garrett and cornerback Castine Bridges. The lone returning starter from the Arch Rivalry game last season will be junior cornerback Carl Gettis who endured a sophomore-slump after an outstanding freshman campaign.
Needing to replace two safeties, defensive coordinator and safeties coach Matt Eberflus will have his work cut out for him.
In Moore, Eberflus loses one of the best athletes to ever come out of the tunnel onto Faurot Field. However, Moore constantly battled injuries in 2008 and was never the destructive force that intercepted eight passes during Missouri's memorable 2007 season.
By losing Garrett, Eberflus will miss a safety who was not afraid to come up and help against the run, but struggled to make adjustments with the ball in the air. Garrett was Missouri's third-leading tackler last season.
Looking to improve on the performance of Moore and Garrett will be sophomore Kenji Jackson. Jackson earned his way into the starting line-up by the end of last season despite being a true freshman. On the year, Jackson recorded 62 tackles, two interceptions and one forced fumble. As Jackson received more playing time last season, it became obvious that he covered much more ground in the passing game than did Garrett.
Hoping to line-up next to Jackson will be senior Hardy Ricks, juniors Jarrell Harrison and Jasper Simmons and redshirt freshman Zaviar Gooden. Going into fall camp, Simmons will be a step behind Ricks, Harrison and Gooden as they all will have been through spring football and likely have a better grasp of the system.
Ricks is a senior out of St. Louis, MO who has seen plenty of repetitions throughout his time at Missouri, but never as a starter at the safety position.
Harrison comes to Mizzou from San Francisco Community College along with teammate Josh Tatum. Harrison chose Missouri over North Carolina State, Arizona State and UNLV and says that he, "feels pretty certain he will earn a starting spot before the fall season begins."
Simmons is a JUCO transfer from Hutchinson County. While Simmons will not be on campus for spring practice, it will be interesting to see how his speed (4.4 in the 40-yard dash) and hard-hitting nature translate to the Big XII.
Gooden is a big safety, coming out of high school at 6-foot-1, 205 pounds. Battling a senior and two juniors, Gooden will have a tough road to earn a starting spot. However, Gooden is a prime-candidate to see some time at the third safety position when Missouri switches to its 4-2-5 look.
While both safeties have to be replaced, the Tigers are also looking for improved play from both cornerback positions in 2009.
One thing is for sure at the cornerback position heading into spring practices: There will be no shortage of competition. The Tigers need to find a cornerback to start opposite of Gettis and Gettis might not be the lock to start that many assume. Battling for playing time along with Gettis will be junior transfer Munir Prince, junior Kevin Rutland, sophomore Trey Hobson and freshmen Robert Steeples and Kip Edwards.
Prince, who transferred from Notre Dame prior to last season, has what Missouri lacked in the secondary: speed. What he is able to do with that speed is still up in the air, but the coaches will give Prince an opportunity at a starting spot sometime during camp.
Hobson impressed at times last season as he was one of many who gained increased playing time after Bridges' injury.
Steeples and Edwards both have the physical ability to start in the Big XII, but we will not know how much they improved last season until spring practices this year.
With a poor 2008 in the rear-view mirror, the Tigers will look to some fresh faces to slow down the potent aerial attacks of the Big XII. Improvement in the passing game is a must if the Tigers hope to return to the Big XII Championship in 2009.
InsideMizzou's Prediction: Gettis, Prince, Jackson and Harrison man the secondary to start the Arch Rivarly game next season. Hobson and one of the freshmen corners, Steeple or Edwards, see time out of the nickel package. The biggest story out of the secondary in 2009 will be the play of Kenji Jackson as he becomes one of the top safeties in the league and leads the Missouri secondary to modest improvements.