Missouri showing defensive improvement in preseason

Missouri’s will need defensive improvement to challenge top teams in the conference this season.
Missouri defensive coordinator Ryan Walters watches his defense work against the first team offense during a Missouri fall camp practice at the Mizzou Athletics Training Center on August 13, 2018.

“We’re gonna keep it under the rug here, the defense is playing so bad right now, guys, and it’s gonna be really rough for them,” Drew Lock said.

Lock paused, but then alleviated any tension with a smile after Wednesday’s practice.

“They’re good, they’re gonna be alright this year and I’m excited to see them play,” he said. “I’m really happy that we got to help them through this process, giving them stuff they might actually see this year instead of some of the offense we ran last year.”

During camp this summer, there has been a shift for the defense. After being the weak link for the team the last couple of years, the defense has shown some promise this fall after its second-half surge at the end of last year.

Lock thinks the defense is now catching up to the team’s high-octane offense.

“I thought it was pretty offensive heavy last camp with who won the day,” Lock said. “I came out here [this year] and you had to bust your butt to be able to win the day on the offensive or defensive side of the ball. That’s probably been the first time I’ve been here where it’s been both really battling back and forth.”

That shift is partly due to the promotion of defensive coordinator Ryan Walters.

Walters was promoted to defensive coordinator at the end of last season, after former coordinator DeMontie Cross was fired in September.

Coach Barry Odom took the role of defensive coordinator and defensive play caller after Cross was fired last season and led a Missouri defense that only allowed 21 points in its’ last six games compared to allowing twice as many points in its’ first six games.

Last season, Walters was the defensive backs coach and oversaw a vast improvement in the pass defense at the end of last season when Missouri had eight of its 12 interceptions come in the last six regular season games.

With Walters overseeing the defense -- and with defensive play calling handed off to him this offseason -- Missouri’s defenders have noticed an improvement from last fall’s camp to this year’s.

“Everybody has bought in right now and you can tell everyone has the same goal,” senior Terry Beckner Jr. said. “We’ve really connected and gotten closer and the closer the team is, the better off they’ll be as far as their energy and how they’ll practice and how they’ll play.”

Walters has helped establish continuity with the defense so far this season to make sure the defense emulates the performance in the second-half of last season instead of the first.

“We’ve taken big steps,” sophomore safety Jordan Ulmer said. “The defense is more dialed in and more focused, we really came together as a group.”

The progression could be considered a big help this season as defensive issues have held Missouri back the last couple of years against premier opponents in the Southeastern Conference.

Georgia, the favorite to win the SEC East, was on the ropes early a season ago in Athens, Georgia before the Bulldog’s run game bullied the defense and had nearly 700 yards in their 53-28 win.

With that being said, not all the fault can be placed on the defense in that game; Missouri’s fast-paced offense left the defense on the field for large portions of the game when it stalled out late.

However, with Drew Lock and a high powered offense this season, an improved defense is what could take Missouri to another level in its high profile conference games.

Edited by Adam Cole | acole@themaneater.com

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