University of Missouri

Why Missouri’s defensive line has a ‘very rare’ situation in the eyes of this coach

Jordan Elliott on Texas reunion at MU

Missouri defensive lineman Jordan Elliott talks about reuniting with former UT teammate Chris Daniels under Brick Haley at MU.
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Missouri defensive lineman Jordan Elliott talks about reuniting with former UT teammate Chris Daniels under Brick Haley at MU.

Missouri has held two and a half weeks of spring football practices, which is more than enough time for defensive line coach Brick Haley to acknowledge he is facing a new problem.

Haley used to coach at Texas, and the Tigers had one of his former Longhorns players last season in Jordan Elliott. Now they have another, as defensive tackle Chris Daniels joined the team earlier this year. And the two defensive linemen make it tough for the coach to concentrate because of their combined sense of humor, just like they did in Austin.

“There’s a lot of jokes,” Haley told The Star. “Chris is a barrel of fun. He’s a prankster. He does a lot of stuff that irritates the crap out of me.”

At MU, the two transfers from Texas and their position coach are part of what Haley, a 30-year veteran of the coaching industry, calls a “very rare” situation. He was the lead recruiter for Elliott and Daniels while at Texas, and both played under him in Austin during the 2016 season. Now all three are almost 800 miles northwest of where they first convened.

Together in Columbia, they’ll have a memorable reunion that strengthens a MU defensive line that lost a pair of starters to graduation in Terry Beckner Jr. and Walter Palmore and hasn’t had an elite pass rusher since Charles Harris went pro in 2016.

In 2018, Missouri ranked eighth in the Southeastern Conference in sacks and 10th in tackles-for-loss. Also junior Tre Williams remains suspended indefinitely after being charged in December with second-degree domestic assault. Williams’ case has yet to be settled.

Regardless of whether Williams returns, Mizzou will need newcomers and reserves to help offset the loss of Beckner and Palmore inside.

“It’s crazy,” Elliott said of the situation. “You could almost call it destiny.”

It wasn’t exactly a domino effect. Haley lost his job in Austin when the Longhorns fired coach Charlie Strong, and he joined Barry Odom’s staff in December 2016. Elliott elected to transfer after the coaching change and had a strong debut for MU in 2018 with three sacks and eight tackles for loss.

After leaving Austin and attending Copiah-Lincoln Community College, Daniels became the last to join. He committed to Missouri in December and moved to campus the next month. Haley went to recruit Daniels’ junior college before recognizing his former player and deciding to recruit him once again.

Missouri is halfway through spring football practices and a lot of mid-year enrollees are still learning the playbook and adjusting to the college game, Daniels has jumped right in because he knows how Haley operates.

“He’s been the same guy since he recruited me out of high school,” Daniels said. “He’s reiterating the same thing back when he was recruiting me at my house and when we were at Texas.”

Elliott had a strong end to this past season. An Army All-American out of high school, Elliott’s best game came in the 2018 regular-season finale against Arkansas, when he had three sacks and had a forced fumble that Missouri recovered for a touchdown. Haley said he continues to preach consistency to Elliott, who occasionally takes a play off, and is hoping Daniels’ presence helps his cause.

Daniels first met Elliott at The Opening, a Nike scouting event for elite high school prospects, in their hometown of Houston. That’s when they first talked about going to college together, and the two texted weekly when they both left Austin. Elliott put a hard recruiting pitch on Daniels when the junior-college transfer visited MU’s campus in December.

Elliott has made himself a on-call resource to Daniels to help him get acclimated as quickly as he can, taking his questions constantly, whether they’re about a blitz package or how to get around town.

“In college football, there’s a learning curve,” Elliott said. “(Daniels is) way ahead. There’s a lot of things he already knows that freshmen (don’t because) they never got that type of coaching.”

Still, there are things that Elliott can only help so much with, like getting Daniels healthy after he underwent two surgeries on his right ankle to repair ligaments he tore in junior college. He’s been able to practice but has been limited at times.

Haley’s optimistic that Daniels will be healthy in the coming weeks and is happy that he has another player that knows his style and standards before even playing a down for him. Now it has to translate on the field like it’s started to for Elliott.

He’s getting sick of the jokes, though.

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Alex Schiffer has been covering the Missouri Tigers for The Star since October 2017. He came in second place for magazine-length feature writing by the U.S. Basketball Writer’s Association in 2018 and graduated from Mizzou in 2017.
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