COLUMBIA, Mo. - For the first time since Monday, the Missouri Tiger football team practiced outdoors Thursday morning.
- Injury update: Starting wide receiver Marcus Lucas (hamstring) shed his red jersey for a red pullover. Fellow wideout Jaleel Clark was also wearing a red pullover due to a bruised knee. Three players were in red jerseys: CB John Gibson (sprained ankle), WR Wesley Leftwich (hamstring), and joining the group Thursday was starting strong safety Matt White (groin).
Speaking of safeties, that's where much of the attention will be focused today.
Since Pig Brown and William Moore left Columbia, the Tiger defense has perpetually been searching for a consistent duo in the back end of the secondary.
Remember Mizzou's magical 2007 season? It was, arguably, the best season in program history. That year Brown and Moore played at all-conference levels and posted these ridiculous combined numbers:
Is that type of production at the safety spot and the team's overall record (12-2) a coincidence? Probably. Chase Daniel operating the offense that season certainly helped.
But with offenses evolving the way they have over the last decade-plus at all levels of football, the safety is increasingly becoming the most important and versatile piece on the defense.
Some of the best all-around individual defenders in the NFL, now, are safeties. Ed Reed, Troy Polamalu, Earl Thomas, the late Sean Taylor.
This type of defender is blanket in coverage, yet physical enough to make plays at the line of scrimmage, all while constantly generating turnovers.
This type of defender is who Mizzou's current safeties -- Braylon Webb (the starter at free safety), White, and Ian Simon (White's competition at strong safety) -- hope to become.
"It's a real hybrid position. It's become ever increasingly harder and harder to recruit and evaluate guys." ~ Safeties coach Alex Grinch
"In a perfect world, you'd probably like to recruit all corners. You get the six foot corners and move them to the safety position, ya know? But the one thing you can never lose is that toughness. Tony Dungy said it great. You just want total football players. You don't need cover guys, you don't need zone guys, you need total football players." ~ Defensive coordinator Dave Steckel
Ironically, Steckel and his colleagues on staff have quite a history of recruiting high school safeties and converting them to linebacker. That is the route Sean Weatherspoon and Zaviar Gooden took to get to Columbia, and now both are playing linebacker in the NFL.
In fact, Steckel used the phrase "moving them down" when referring to taking high school players from one position and transitioning them to a different spot in college.
The goal with this practice is to take advantage of a players athleticism at a position that usually requires more weight and size.
Cornerbacks become safeties. Safeties become linebackers. Linebackers become defensive ends. Defensive ends become defensive tackles.