There was been a lot of talk about Missouri playing a more aggressive style of defense this spring.
The Tigers’ secondary is expected to deploy more press coverage with cornerbacks at the line jamming receivers in man coverage than in previous seasons when coverage tended to lean more toward zone coverage.
But that’s not the only change that will be on display during the first public scrimmage of the spring at 9 a.m. Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
Missouri will ditch strong and free safety designations in favor of left and right safeties.
“It’s more of a challenge, because you’re learning two positions,” said first-year Tigers safeties coach Ryan Walters, who followed new defensive coordinator Barry Odom from Memphis. “It helps when teams are playing fast.”
Generally, the strong safety plays closer to the box and acts as an extra linebacker (with more speed) against the run.
The name comes from defensive positioning with the strong safety lining up on strong side of the offense, usually whichever side the tight end lines up or to the wider side of the field.
Pass coverage responsibilities can include tight ends or running backs leaking out of the backfield.
Free safeties act as a last line of defense and generally line up as the deepest player on the defense.
In man coverage, the free safety typically has the quarterback and, because the quarterback most often stays in the pocket, effectively becomes a free defender.
Under the new system, Missouri’s safeties instead will be responsible for a half of the field.
That means the Tigers’ safeties will have to learn the responsibilities for both strong and free safety, because they now could function as either position depending on the offense’s formation.
Aside from making it easier to line up against up-tempo offenses, the switch should boost the overall IQ of the defense’s back end.
“It forces you to understand conceptually on defense what we’re doing on defense as opposed to just memorizing your position,” Walters said.
That can be tricky, but Missouri’s safeties seem to be adjusting to the change without much struggle.
“We have some smart guys in that room, and I think coach Odom has done a great job of the pace of installation this spring,” Walters said. “We haven’t put too much on our plate right now. … Those guys are doing a good job of watching tape at home and studying and focusing on meetings, so it’s been good for us in the safety room.”