Spring football is all about improvement and finding out exactly what the coach has to work with.
For the Missouri Tigers to pick up their third straight 10-win season, their defense has to not only replace the aforementioned players, but be greatly improved after doing so, right? Not necessarily according to Head Coach Gary Pinkel.
"If you look at the statistics for our defense in league play, we were near the top in almost every statistical category and a lot of people don't know that," said Pinkel. "In scoring defense, we were second. We were fifth in pass defense. In rush defense we were fourth in the league and in total defense we were fifth in the league."
Having praised his defense, Pinkel also made sure to mention a few points of emphasis that he had discussed with his defensive coaches about where the Tigers could improve.
"We have to communicate better. We have to not give up the big play, keep it in front of us in the secondary."
Pinkel then went on to say that the defensive line has to get to the quarterback more often to help alleviate pressure on the secondary and decrease the number of big plays the Tigers allow.
However, Pinkel said not to expect a big change in the defensive schemes to help get more pressure on the quarterback and reduce the big plays.
"We like what we are doing scheme-wise. There are not magical schemes out there. We will really slow what we are doing on defense, because we are going to be a very young defense."
With no big scheme changes on the horizon, Pinkel thinks one main key to an improved defense in 2009 in the development of the returning starters from last year's unit.
"The guys who started the year before have got to play at a high level. Jaron Baston on the defensive line, he is a returning starter. Obviously, Sean Weatherspoon's a returning starter. Kenji Jackson is a returning starter at the safety spot. Carl Gettis is another. So you start with those guys. They have to improve their play and then you have to bring in the other guys."
After listening to Pinkel, improving the defense does not sound too difficult. As long the returning starters continue their natural progression, the defense communicates better and the Tigers limit big plays, Missouri will improve on their surprisingly good numbers from last year in the Big XII.
But, as all fans know, it will not be quite that simple for Pinkel and his staff. It is obvious he has a plan and it will be interesting to see how these improvements are progressing throughout spring practices.