Christian Holmes still remembers the play that led to the only serious injury of his football life. Two receivers ran vertical routes and a running back released out of the backfield. Missouri was playing a cover-two defense, and Holmes was fighting for a chance to be a starter in the 2017 season.
The ball went to the running back, and Holmes went toward him, too. He made the tackle, and he tore the labrum in his right shoulder. He would need surgery.
“When I first got hurt, I didn’t know how to handle it,” a healthy Holmes said on Wednesday, as he thought back to that August training camp practice.
Holmes has a harder time recalling when exactly he received clearance to play again. It was sometime late in the 2017 season, but it didn’t really matter. By the time doctors cleared him, the defensive back and coach Barry Odom agreed that it was best for him to sit out and maintain another season of eligibility. As he readies to play for Missouri again this fall, Holmes thinks the injury prepared him in a way that competing last season could not have.
Holmes said sitting out a season helped him “get real mature.” He found more time to read his Bible, and he sought to understand why teams deploy cover-three defenses, rather than simply how.
“It helped me study the game more,” Holmes said. “It helped me look at the game from the sideline perspective. When something went wrong, I could actually say why it went wrong.”
Missing the 2017 season, which included a six-game Mizzou winning streak, was still hard for Holmes, of course. Each time he wasn’t able to run onto Faurot Field in uniform stung. And he didn’t get to travel with the Tigers either.
But after each game, he offered his roommate, cornerback DeMarkus Acy, some constructive criticism. He became, Acy said, “an extra brain to pick at.”
“Learning the corner spot, and even at safety, if you’re not right, technique-sound ... you get exposed pretty quickly,” Odom said. “For him, yeah, you don’t ever want a guy to miss time and be hurt, but also, I think he benefited from the mental side of the game.”
Now that he has a better understanding of Missouri’s entire defense, Holmes believes he can be a versatile part of a Tigers secondary that is replacing both of its starting safeties and seeks to improve from a 2017 season during which it allowed opponents to complete 59.6 percent of passes.
The 6-foot-1, 200-pound Holmes practiced at multiple secondary positions in the spring, but Odom believes he is best suited for cornerback, which the head coach also thinks is the most difficult secondary position to master.
“He’s another big body back there,” Acy said of Holmes. “He’s real menacing.”
Even before last season, Holmes had envisioned becoming a versatile defender. He figured that trait would come with experience.
But now he believes it came with time off the field.