Kris Abrams-Draine is back…
Mizzou fielded three scholarship defensive backs against Florida due to injuries on the depth chart. Safety Daylan Carnell was the emergency fourth option, but that won’t have to be the case this Saturday.
“It’s a big deal,” fellow defensive back Ennis Rakestraw, Jr. said on getting Abrams-Draine back. “The type of guy he is, all the youngers guys look up to me and him.”
Abrams-Draine has been having a breakout season with 14 tackles and 5 pass breakups so far. However, his on-field play has only been a part of it.
“Kris has done a great job over the course of this season taking more of a vocal role as a leader,” Defensive Coordinator Blake Baker said.
The junior cornerback has been flying up draft boards as of late and will be one of the defenders who can potentially make it to the NFL if his stellar play continues.
…And Chad Bailey is back!
Also returning is the play-caller of the defense: Chad Bailey.
“We’re very, very excited to get him back this week from a leadership standpoint and on-field standpoint,” Baker said.
Bailey has fought through multiple injuries throughout his career, so being on the sidelines didn’t do much to faze him.
“I was fine cause I knew we had Dameon Wilson out there,” Bailey said.
In terms of what he focused on while out of the game, Bailey talked about his presence on the sideline.
“One thing was energy, you always gotta keep the energy on the sides,” Bailey said.
His teammates took notice, but they are more looking forward to him being on the field.
“Chad is a vocal leader,” Trajan Jeffcoat said. “He encouraged excitement. He knows how to check and signal off, so having him back to make sure everyone is right is great.”
Entering the Vandy game, Bailey said he is as fully healthy as he can get.
“You’ll never feel 100% throughout a football season, but I feel pretty good,” Bailey said.
Commodores have some talent outside
Vanderbilt has long been one of the bottom feeders of the SEC, but Clark Lea has done great work with this program thus far. The skill position talent in Nashville is what jumps off the film for Baker and this defensive unit.
“#16 (Jayden McGowan) man, he is dynamic,” Baker said. “They do a great job getting the ball in his hands. #14 (Will Sheppard), he does a phenomenal job with the back shoulder fade. There hasn’t been one game he’s not taken over.”
Ennis Rakestraw also mentioned Sheppard’s ability to beat defenders with his over-the-shoulder passes.
To combat that, the Mizzou defense knows they need to versatile.
“We have to make sure we aren’t a one-dimensional defense,” Jeffcoat said. “We were working on weak points for our defense so we can make everything look the same.”
The Commodores also utilize a two-quarterback system, with veteran Mike Wright complemented by freshman upstart AJ Swann.
“#5 (Wright) can run their base offense as he started at the beginning of the year, but they’ve gone a bit more QB run with him,” Baker said. “Both of those quarterbacks are really good players, that freshman (Swann) is really impressive. #5 is dynamic with the ball in his hands.”
Newcomer Marcus Clarke now a vital part of the secondary
One of the players a part of the 3-man defensive back rotation against Florida was Miami transfer Marcus Clarke. For him to even be on the field at this point of the season was a surprise.
“We didn’t know if he’d be eligible for this season, it was kinda wishful thinking,” Baker said. “I knew what kinda skillset he had and I knew he’d be able to contribute.”
Clarke played well against the Gators in a difficult situation.
“For him to finally get to play a lot, we were tired but we fought it out,” Rakestraw said. “I gained much respect for him from that.”
Clarke joined the team right before the season started, but it took him time to get up to speed.
“It’s like riding a bike,” Baker said. “It took him a little bit to find his footing, but he’s been able to get rolling again. He’s gotten better each week as he’s more comfortable with the calls.”
Baker and Clarke’s relationship began at Miami, where the current Mizzou defensive coordinator recruited him out of high school.
“I have a really great relationship with him, play-call wise it’s very similar to what we ran at Miami,” Clarke said. “He’s taken care of me like he said he would.”
Baker was one of the first people to call Clarke when he announced he would be transferring. Their relationship hasn’t missed a beat since being in South Beach.
“He’s always a guy to joke around with, but when it’s time to lock in he always gets us focused,” Clarke said.
Clarke has two season of college football under his belt at Miami, but he sees great things ahead in Columbia.
“I can see the potential in this team,” Clarke said. “We have some great things going on, but things don’t happen over night.”