From his vantage point on the back end of Missouri’s defense, senior safety Ian Simon sees everything.
He makes it a point to study and understand the entire Tigers defense, so it’s worth noting when he gushes about freshman defensive tackle Terry Beckner Jr.’s collegiate debut.
“He played at a really high level,” Simon said. “We weren’t surprised by that at all, because the kid’s been playing like that all camp. But he showed out, and I’m really happy for him.”
Simon singled out a few plays Beckner made Saturday in a 34-3 win against Southeast Missouri that popped during film study.
The first was a play-action screen pass midway through the fourth quarter.
Beckner got a strong initial push then broke toward the sideline when quarterback Tay Bender fired the flare pass to wide receiver Paul McRoberts, who Beckner and defensive tackle Rickey Hatley tracked down for a 3-yard loss.
“That’s a tough play to make for anybody,” Simon said. “You’re getting blocked, you’re swimming through, you blow a guy up and then you go and make a tackle. That’s a big-time play.”
Simon also was impressed by Beckner’s ability to shoot gaps and create havoc in the backfield as he did late in the fourth quarter on back-to-back runs by Brendan Stewart.
Beckner — who finished with four tackles, including one tackle for a loss — and linebacker Joey Burkett smothered Stewart for no gain in the closing minutes and Beckner combined one play later with freshman defensive end Nate Howard to drop Stewart for a 5-yard loss.
“Those are veteran plays that he’s making,” Simon said.
Throughout fall camp, Missouri coach Gary Pinkel and other veteran defensive players heaped praise on Beckner, who is among the five highest-rated recruits MU has landed during Pinkel’s 15 seasons.
“I’ve watched some things Terry does and I’m like, ‘How’d he? What are you doing?’” junior linebacker Michael Scherer said. “He’s that good. I don’t know how he does half the things he does, but he makes it to the ball like every play.”
Beckner inched up the depth chart after the Southeast Missouri game and is now listed as a co-starter at defensive tackle with junior Josh Augusta.
“It’s competitive there and Terry really had a good game,” Pinkel said. “Josh did too, but it’s a competition. He’s really coming along, really maturing. It’s so nice to see. … He’s very naturally strong, athletic and instinctive. That’s just the way he is. I’m glad we got him on our team.”
Of course, everything isn’t gravy when it comes to Beckner.
“Terry Beckner is a very good prospect,” defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski said. “He’s very quick and very strong and very large and, at times, very lazy. If we can get the very lazy part out of him, we’re going to have somebody that’s pretty good.”
Part of that laziness is common among elite high school players, who were able to coast on their natural gifts and didn’t have to work as hard before arriving at college.
“That comes with most freshmen,” Simon said. “They’ve got to figure out how to play at this level and how to play at a high level. It’s not high school, where you can go hard two or three plays and then take a couple plays off. You’ve got to bring it every single snap.”
Already, teammates have noticed a change in Beckner.
“From the first day he got here in the summer workouts to right now, it’s a big change,” Hatley said. “He’s got in shape better and he’s working hard every day. I see him in the weight room doing extra, whatever he can do just to help us out.”
After losing junior defensive tackle Harold Brantley due to injuries sustained in a June car wreck, Beckner’s contributions become even more important.
“We are definitely going to need him to be a key contributor on the defensive line,” Simon said.
Pinkel added, “I’m just glad he’s on our football team. I want him to stay healthy and keep getting better. It will be interesting to see how good he can get.”