On Sept. 1, Missouri will kick off the third season in the Eli Drinkwitz era with a home matchup against Louisiana Tech. The entire month before then will be used to prepare for a campaign that feels like it could go a long way toward defining Drinkwitz’s Missouri tenure.
Fall camp, the official start of full-time practices, will begin Aug. 1. Each day between now and then, we will get fans set for camp by breaking down the Tiger roster one position at a time. In today’s penultimate preview, we finish our look at the defensive side of the ball by breaking down the contenders for playing time at safety.
Safety Martez Manuel is back for his senior season after starting the past two years for Missouri. (USA Today)
The safeties could be the strength of Missouri’s defense, as the Tigers feature a trio of upperclassmen with starting experience at the position. Martez Manuel is back for his senior season after starting each of the past two years. The Columbia native finished second on the team with 77 tackles last season after he logged 64 in 10 games in 2020. Manuel will likely be joined in the starting lineup by Jaylon Carlies. Carlies, who started his Missouri career at cornerback, moved to free safety a season ago and made some eye-popping plays. He finished the season with 67 tackles, four interceptions and a forced fumble. Carlies’ production dropped off a bit as the season went on, but given his athleticism and hard-hitting ability, he could be the best NFL prospect on the Tiger defense, and he should benefit from having spent a season in the starting lineup.
During spring practices, defensive coordinator Blake Baker talked about using a third safety to play the STAR position instead of the nickel corner Steve Wilks used in his base package a season ago. We’re not totally sure which safeties will play which spots (more on that in a bit), but if there’s a third safety in the starting lineup, it would figure to be Clemson transfer Joseph Charleston. Charleston only played three games a season ago before opting to transfer, but in 2020 he racked up 44 tackles while starting six games and appearing in 11. Charleston made a strong first impression at Missouri during the Black and Gold game, when he logged six tackles and an interception.
Speaking of strong performances in the Black and Gold game, Daylan Carnell looked at home in the STAR position. The redshirt freshman had a pair of interceptions. Carnell has been back and forth between corner and safety during his year at Missouri, but assuming he sticks at STAR, he could find himself in the rotation for playing time.
Jalani Williams also looks likely to have a spot on the two-deep. The St. Louis native has constantly battled injuries during his first three seasons at Missouri, but when he’s gotten onto the field, he’s shown flashes of his hard-hitting ability. He’s also gotten lost, at times, resulting in big plays.
Other players who will push for backup spots at safety are Tyler Jones, Tyler Hibbler and Isaac Thompson. Jones has been on campus for two seasons but has not played much aside from special teams. Hibbler redshirted last year’s campaign. Thompson, a four-star signee out of Saint Louis University High in 2022, represented a big get on the recruiting trail, but he tore his ACL, MCL and meniscus last fall, so he hasn’t been able to practice much during the offseason. As a result, it would come as a surprise if he immediately claims a role on defense.
Camp Storyline to Watch
Who lines up where? Carlies seems best-suited for the free safety spot, where he can play center field. Charleston played both strong safety and free safety during spring practices. Manuel said at SEC Media Days that he’s open to playing anywhere on the defense, but considering he’s been much more effective in run support than in coverage thus far in his college career, strong safety seems like the best fit for him. So, can Charleston play STAR? Or does he rotate with Manuel and Carlies while some else (maybe Carnell or a cornerback) starts there? Does Baker tweak his scheme a bit from the spring to get his three most proven safeties on the field at the same time? It will be interesting to see how the reps shake out during camp.
It’s hard to envision Baker not finding a way to start Carlies, Charleston and Manuel. Where each plays, we’re not sure. Williams should be the No. 2 option at free safety. Carnell will likely serve as the backup at STAR and could see the field in dime looks.
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