COLUMBIA — While evaluating the state of his football program after a largely disappointing 2012 season, Missouri coach Gary Pinkel received some interesting feedback from his returning players.
“They’d like our leaders to say more,” said Pinkel, whose Tigers finished 5-7 last year.
So in response, Pinkel put an emphasis on vocal leadership this offseason by holding meetings with the individual classes.
“We (went over) some concepts and fundamentals of teaching skills and vocal leadership,” Pinkel said, “so if you don’t want to lead vocally, guess what — we need you to lead and this is how you do it. And we’ve never done that before. So I think it’s something that’s very favorable.”
Two players the staff will surely be looking at, specifically, to become more vocal are Kansas City-area seniors Andrew Wilson and E.J. Gaines.
Gaines, a cornerback from Fort Osage, and Wilson, a linebacker from Raymore-Peculiar, have been two of the MU defense’s most productive players since they arrived on campus, and are slated to be three-year starters this fall. But while Wilson has opened eyes with his bone-crushing hits and Gaines has done the same with his overall coverage skills, neither has a reputation for being a chatterbox on or off the field.
Now might be a good time for Wilson. After spending the last two seasons at middle and strong-side linebacker, he finally assumes the full-time role in the middle, where he feels most comfortable and immediately becomes the voice of the defense.
“He doesn’t talk as much as some guys I’ve had,” defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Dave Steckel said, “but he talks more than others.”
Steckel added that Wilson has done a good job of talking and setting the defense, but Wilson knows he must start leading off the field as well.
“I tried to talk a little bit last year, but you don’t want to be overbearing with some of the older guys,” Wilson said.
But now that he has seniority, Wilson feels ready to help assume the leadership mantle left by Sean Weatherspoon, Jacquies Smith, William Moore, Ziggy Hood and Kenji Jackson, all of whom Wilson named specifically as players who showed him how to lead.
“I think there’s a fine line between talking too much and not talking enough, and I’m just trying to balance that line and say what needs to be said when it needs to be said,” Wilson said. “It’s easy to lead when everything is going good, but when adversity hits, that’s when you’ve really got to lead.”
To that end, cornerback coach Cornell Ford said Gaines will be charged with the same duty, just by nature of his talent — Ford sees Gaines as a future pro — and impressive practice habits, which Pinkel is fond of praising.
“He had a great year, one of the best years for a defensive back I’ve seen since I’ve been here,” Ford said of Gaines’ 2012 season. “But if anything, he’ll have more on his plate this year. He’s a very competitive guy, but quiet. He’s always been a leader by example, but we need him to be a more vocal leader this year.”
Gaines, who said he received a fourth-round grade from the NFL Draft advisory board, elected to come back to school to finish up his degree and work on some of the finer points of his game, such as zone coverage, ball skills and technique. But among his goals for 2013 — which include becoming a first-round pick and all-conference player — is rising to the challenge of being a vocal leader for a team that very much needs it.
“We have all kinds of leaders on the team,” Gaines said. “We need to be more consistent, and that falls on the seniors’ shoulders.
“Now it’s our turn to be vocal and lead our team to more wins.”
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