Missouri’s press-box announcer, Sam Fleury, sounded like a skipping record Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
“No. 10 Kentrell Brothers with the tackle,” Fleury said over and over during the 24th-ranked Tigers’ 34-3 win against Southeast Missouri.
Fleury made some variation of that announcement 16 times, which represented a career high in tackles for Brothers.
“Kentrell was all over the field …,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. “Instinctively, he’s just thinking at a different level now. He can see everything and, certainly, he’s a really good athlete. He has the potential to be really, really good.”
Brothers, whose 122 tackles last season make him the top returning tackler in the Southeastern Conference, has a wealth of experience. He appeared in 11 games as a redshirt freshman in 2012 and has started 29 consecutive games since the beginning of the 2013 season.
He went the extra mile during the offseason to ensure himself a stellar senior season.
Brothers said things really started to click “probably sometime this summer. We put in a lot of different things. I made sure to go to the coaches and ask them where my help was going to be at, where I can afford to be fast or slow. (New defensive coordinator Barry) Odom did a great job of telling me this place I can take some risks or these places I can’t, and I made sure to listen. It’s helped out a lot, from the scrimmages to the game Saturday.”
The concepts weren’t new for Brothers, but a fearlessness to act on his instincts is. He said he no longer worries about making a mistake that might lead to a big play and instead trusts his eyes and his preparation.
“There’s a reason that he’s that way,” said offensive coordinator Josh Henson, who recognized Brothers’ advanced instincts on recruiting trips to Guthrie, Okla. “You walk by the linebacker room, and the guy’s in there studying film more than anybody. He’s in there all the time watching film, watching tape. He’s a football junkie.”
That preparation was the key to Brothers’ monster game against Southeast Missouri, which also included a blocked punt.
“Most of the time, I knew exactly what they were going to run,” he said. “I wasn’t able to stop it every time, but I had somewhat of an idea of what play was going to come. If I can continue that really good film study, I can continue to tackle like that.”
Pinkel called linebacker one of the three toughest positions to play, because of the volume of keys and counter keys that must be read before the snap and as the play begins.
“Honestly, it’s mind-boggling,” Pinkel said of the sheer volume of information linebackers must digest in a matter of seconds.
Brothers makes it seem natural.
“What he’s doing right now, there’s no thinking,” Pinkel said. “He’s just going. .. He’s a good athlete, he can run well, he’s fast, so that’s what you’ve got. You’ve got a guy with all those instincts and knows his keys so well there’s no thinking. It’s really neat to see and Spoon (Cardinals linebacker Sean Weatherspoon) actually got that way too and did a great job that way.”
It’s as if Brothers is a drag-racer getting a hole shot on every snap with his ability to sniff out what’s coming based on the offense’s alignment. That, in turn, unlocks his physical gifts.
“He’s just a great football player …,” Henson said. “He does so many little things right. It’s simple things like getting off blocks and reading plays quicker, a half-step quicker than other people do, and getting to the point to make the tackle. I’ve just been really impressed by him.”