Portions of Missouri’s early spring practices have resembled a carnival because of giant, bright-yellow additions to the workout regimen.
The Tigers were a poor-tackling defense last season, so improving the ability to get ball-carriers on the ground has been an offseason point of emphasis.
At the suggestion of two new defensive coaches, Mizzou is incorporating tackling rings — oversized, doughnut-shaped pads that provide a moving target for defensive players to refine their tackling technique.
“It’s different, but I’ve seen a lot of videos of NFL players using them and different colleges using them,” junior linebacker Brandon Lee said. “So far, the experience with them has been great.”
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Lee said it helps teach defenders to hone in on tackling points, often the front leg, and makes it easier to improve head coach Barry Odom’s preferred rugby-style technique.
The rolling rings also have spurred jealousy among the Tigers’ offensive teammates.
“I got jealous, because we were over there doing rolls and ball-security drills,” junior wide receiver Nate Brown said. “That looked a lot more fun.”
New defensive line coach Brick Haley, who was picked up from Charlie Strong’s disbanded Texas staff, and Brian Odom, Barry’s younger brother and an offseason addition from Washington State to coach outside linebackers, utilized the tackling rings at previous coaching stops.
“Some folks I visited with in the offseason use them and really like them,” Barry Odom said. “I obviously see the benefit for them.”
The Tigers won’t don full pads until Saturday, so the new drills allow for a jump start on approximating live tackling.
Moving forward, it can also save wear and tear by reducing the number of practice collisions for players.
“Tackling was a glaring area of improvement we need to make,” Mizzou co-defensive coordinator DeMontie Cross said. “We did a little research and think the tackle circles or doughnuts, as some people call them, allow the kids to be a lot more aggressive and saves our kids’ bodies, so we’re not hitting each other constantly. It’s a good tool to have.”
The big question is will it help?
“We’ll know in our first scrimmage (Saturday),” Cross said. “ … Certainly, we’re hoping to see some improvement this spring.”
Lee is confident it will, but also suggests an alternative way for Mizzou to improve its tackling.
“It will help technique-wise, but in the end tackling comes down to if you’ve got the will to do it,” he said. “That’s what it came down to last year. I don’t think it was poor coaching or anything like that. I feel like we as players should take the blame for our tackling. Coaches can’t tackle a guy out there. We’re 21-year-old kids and we should know how to tackle by now.”
Barry Odom wants his defense to play faster and master tackling leverage points, while also understanding where help is available within the scheme as additional ways to improve the poor tackling.
“Two years ago, we were pretty good tackling team,” he said. “I didn’t forget how to teach a tackle.”
Coupled with strength gains made during offseason workouts, Cross thinks the new drills will be valuable in reinforcing the “same foot, same shoulder” theory of tackling, and repetition should bolster the defense’s overall confidence.
“A lot of the guys, once they started to miss (tackles last season), their confidence was gone,” Cross said. “Physically, we didn’t hold up against some teams — LSU and Florida, in particular. … Now, we’re just trying to get her confidence back with some new techniques.”
There were three additions to Missouri’s list of walking wounded Tuesday as spring practice resumed.
Junior left guard Kevin Pendleton sat out because of a sprained right foot, as did junior center Samson Bailey, who is in concussion protocol.
Barry Odom hopes both players will return to practice later in the week, but sophomore defensive end Franklin Agbasimere is out until June after surgery to repair a broken bone in his left foot.
Four players who underwent surgery in the last six months — defensive tackles Terry Beckner Jr. (ACL) and Markell Utsey (ACL), senior running back Ish Witter (shoulder) and junior safety Cam Hilton (shoulder) — remain limited to non-contract drills.
Junior tight end Kendall Blanton (ankle surgery) is sidelined for the spring.