Secondary looking for more consistency as season approaches

DeMarkus Acy will lead a unit that hopes to improve on an uneven 2018 campaign where it gave up over 3000 yards in the air.
Senior cornerback DeMarkus Acy jogs with the ball during a practice on Faurot Field during Missouri's 2019 fall camp. Acy will be one of three cornerbacks sharing snaps in Saturday's season-opener against Wyoming. Madeline Carter

The 2018 season had its share of ups and downs for the Missouri secondary, a unit that endured a brutal four-game stretch where it allowed opposing quarterbacks to drop an average of 365.25 passing yards per game.

Three weeks after that run, it kept No. 13 Florida’s starting quarterback Feleipe Franks under 100 yards on 9-for-22 passing in an upset win. Defensive coordinator Ryan Walters cited a change in personnel for the turnaround — a reason he’s hopeful the secondary and defense as a whole will be more consistent in 2019.

“We made a couple changes with some sophomores that ended up starting,” Walters said. “Also, you look at the front end of the schedule, we played some pretty tough opponents. So gaining that experience and learning from your mistakes … I’m excited that we got the same guys who were doing the bulk of the playing and making the bulk of the plays back.”

While Walters’ sentiments of the bulk of players returning rings mostly true for the defensive backs, he and the rest of the coaching staff have high expectations for one relative newcomer in the unit: sophomore cornerback Jarvis Ware.

Ware saw limited action last season, recording six tackles in ten games, but earned a starting corner spot for the season opener against Wyoming following a strong fall camp.

“He’s been lights out,” Walters said. “You look at [Ware] from a physical standpoint, and his frame, I mean he wears, like, double or triple-X gloves. He’s got big strong hands. [He’s] physical. He has good ball skills. He’s everything you want in a corner and he’s also really, really smart.”

According to the depth chart, the starting cornerbacks on Saturday will be Ware and senior DeMarkus Acy, but coach Barry Odom plans to rotate them with redshirt junior Christian Holmes, expecting the trio to play roughly the same amount.

“[The way] we look at it, we’ve got three starters at that position, and I’d venture to guess that at the end of game one that they’re pretty equal snaps,” Odom said. “They both [Ware and Holmes] earned an opportunity to play. I think we’re gonna play at a high level. [It’s] fortunate that we’ve got three that we feel that way with.”

As the lone senior of the three, Acy hopes that the equality will extend beyond snap count. Being more than a position group, but a cohesive unit is a priority for the Second Team All-SEC member heading into the season.

“We all talking, one heartbeat,” he said. “We all moving the same, talking the same. Even when we’re wrong, we gotta be wrong on the same page. You get everybody on the same page.”

Even with the depth at the position, it’s Acy who’s the unquestioned leader of the group. As one of five captains on the team, he feels the responsibility of helping the corners, and by extension the entire defense, succeed.

“At first it wasn’t something I was really necessarily looking forward to, but now that I’m a senior, I feel like time is limited, and it’s not about being selfish,” he said. “It’s all about playing for the team.”

Edited by Emily Leiker | eleiker@themaneater.com

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