Q&A: Cale Garrett sizes up Missouri’s defense

The Tigers’ leader from last season spoke about Nick Bolton, Kobie Whiteside, and more in an interview with The Maneater.
Senior linebacker Cale Garrett celebrates in the end zone following his fumble-recovery touchdown against South Carolina. Madeline Carter

Inside linebacker Cale Garrett was the heart of Missouri’s defense in 2019 until his season ended after a win against Troy due to a torn pectoral muscle. Garrett, now a member of the Tennessee Titans after he signed as an undrafted free agent, spoke with The Maneater about playing with Nick Bolton, Kobie Whiteside and the rest of the Tigers’ returners on defense.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarification purposes.

The Maneater: Tell me about playing with Nick Bolton. From your perspective, what makes him good enough to be the star of this year’s defense and a projected first-round pick?

Cale Garrett: His ability to diagnose a play and then always be in the right spot is something that’s super desirable at linebacker; just for him to be able to seemingly always know what to do. He’s super smart and also super instinctual, and I think that’s a great combination. He doesn’t shy away from contact, and he’s a real physical guy, too. So, he’s got everything that you’re looking for in a linebacker. On top of that, he’s just a great person.

TM: What was the first thing that jumped out about him when he arrived as a freshman in 2018?

CG: Just how much of the defense he seemed to already know and his ability to pick up on things quickly and ask good questions, maybe even some things that I hadn’t even thought to ask. He’s always eager to learn, and he understands that there’s a cerebral part of the game, and I can really appreciate that.

TM: Did you see him step into more of a leadership role after you got injured?

CG: Yeah, I think he’s kind of forced into that regardless of if I was there or not, just because of how talented of a player he is and how good he is. I mean, he’s kind of forced into that leadership position whether he likes it or not. I think he kind of naturally is someone who’s expected to produce and he’s a guy that’s easy to follow, as well. I’m sure as time’s gone on and whatnot, just kind of the natural maturation of things, he’s stepped up to be more of a vocal leader and whatnot. Obviously with me not being there, I can’t see it all the time, but it’s only right that he’s a leader on the Missouri Tigers this season.

TM: Despite Coach [Barry] Odom’s release, most of the defensive coaching staff remains intact. What are your thoughts on the coaches, and why do you think they were retained?

CG: They’re all sharp dudes and great men and people that, for me personally, I could go to them with any sort of question I had — football or life-related. Just their ability to get everybody in the right place and just not have a cookie-cutter defense necessarily. They were really good at adapting to what the situation was or who we were going up against as well.

TM: With an all-SEC schedule and not really getting those — not necessarily easier games — but weaker opponents at the beginning of the year, do you think it’ll be helpful to have a returning staff in place when they get those Alabama and LSU teams right away?

CG: It’s gonna be tough regardless, just because this year’s kind of been crazy. But I know Coach [Ryan] Walters and he’s kind of the guy that I would love to play for, always. Throughout my whole four years there he was somebody, who no matter what, I was always willing to do what [he] asked of me because I knew that they were gonna do everything in their power to put us in the best position to win.

TM: Last year you played with two NFL talents at defensive tackle, one of whom (Jordan Elliot) was taken in the third round, and the other, Kobie Whiteside, figures to be a force this season. How did you benefit as an off-ball linebacker from those guys in the middle?

CG: I mean, it makes it a lot easier when you’ve got two guys up front who are balling out and eating up blocks. It definitely makes my life a lot easier whenever offenses are having to worry about those two up front before they can even climb second level. That always helps. They were also just both good leaders too, to kind of distribute responsibility and everything. I know Jordan was great at being a vocal leader on our defense, as well as being an incredible playmaker and producing for us, too. And then Kobie, he’s always in the right spot, and strong, and one of the most genuine dudes. Kobie Whiteside’s always gonna be himself, and that’s something I can respect about him. I know there’s a lot of expectations for him to be great this year, and I just hope he’s able to enjoy this season and it’s everything that he hopes it is.

TM: Who’s one guy on defense who you think will surprise people this year?

CG: I’m not sure. I just hope everybody surprises with how well they play. I wish them all success. I haven’t been at this camp to be able to say anything, but I know we have a lot of guys coming back from the year before, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if they were all prepared to play, because they have a bunch of experience under their belt.

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