Notebook: Mizzou optimistic Bryant can play, Garrett can be replaced
Sunday, the day after Missouri beat Troy 42-10 to improve its record to 4-1 on the season, the Tigers got some positive injury news and some devastating. The good: After leaving the game in the second quarter with a knee injury that initially looked scary, quarterback Kelly Bryant wouldn’t miss much time, if any. The bad: senior linebacker Cale Garrett, who intercepted two passes and returned one for a touchdown in the first half, suffered a torn pectoral tendon and would miss the remainder of the season.
Tuesday, when head coach Barry Odom and his players met with the media, the report on Bryant remained positive. Bryant practiced without a red, no-contact jersey and Odom said he expects Bryant behind center when the Tigers host Ole Miss at 6 p.m. on Saturday. And while players and coaches expressed sympathy for Garrett, they were also optimistic that he can be replaced.
“There’s no denying what Cale did for our defense,” senior safety Khalil Oliver said. “He was one of the most important parts of our defense. But he’ll be back and he’ll be helping us get ready and we expect no dropoff without him here. He’s going to help us get better from the sideline.”
Let’s start with Bryant. The senior said that when he initially got hit by Troy defensive lineman Travis Sailo, he felt a pop in his left knee and, like Tiger fans, he feared the worst. However, by the time he walked off the Faurot Field turf, he figured the injury wasn’t too severe, and an MRI confirmed that no ligaments were torn. The team has classified Bryant’s injury as a sprain.
Bryant described himself to reporters as “90 percent” and said he expects to play against Ole Miss. He is still getting used to wearing a brace on his knee, but he doesn’t expect the injury to limit what he can do on the field.
“I’ve just been testing out the brace, seeing how I move in it,” Bryant said. “But I feel good, feel like I’ll be ready to play Saturday.”
Despite the brace, Odom said Bryant had one of his best practices of the season Tuesday. Barring a setback, he expects Bryant to start on Saturday.
“He looked really good today,” Odom said. “... I think he had his best Tuesday practice. So anyway, that's a good sign.”
Garrett, meanwhile, was not present at the team’s practice Tuesday because he was undergoing surgery to repair his torn tendon. Several players said they didn’t even know Garrett had been injured until he left the game, and some didn’t find out until Sunday. He apparently suffered the injury prior to both of his interceptions.
“I really didn’t know until after the game,” defensive end Chris Turner said of Garrett’s injury. “I had no clue he was hurt. I just thought he came out because we were up by so much.”
“I actually didn’t find out until halftime,” said cornerback DeMarkus Acy. “We walked in and everybody was talking and stuff, and I seen him in the locker room with his jacket on and I was just asking him, ‘are you okay?’ And he said ‘I’m fine,’ but I knew he wasn’t fine. I seen him with that look on his face. But that shows you the type of player he is.”
Players and coaches were unanimous in articulating empathy for Garrett, a four-year starter whose college career is likely over. Asked about whether it would be possible for Garrett to apply for a medical redshirt, Odom said the coaching staff would discuss the possibility with Garrett and his family, but even if Garrett wanted to apply for a fifth season of eligibility, it would likely be difficult to attain since he appeared in five games this season.
"We'll sit down family-wise and see if it's something that they want to look into,” Odom said. “I will pursue any avenue that they want. I'm guessing it would be difficult to come by, but you know, it's worth a shot if it's something they want to do."
Even if Garrett has played in his final college football game, Odom believes his career in the sport is not over. He didn’t yet know an exact timetable, but he predicted Garrett will beat whatever recovery timeline is set forth by doctors and be healthy enough to pursue a professional career next season if he so chooses.
“Whatever weeks and months it is, he'll beat that time frame,” Odom said. “Just the kind of person he is. I think he's going to play ball for a long time."
Of more immediate concern for Missouri will be replacing Garrett on the field. Sophomore Cameron Wilkins finds his name in the starting middle linebacker spot vacated by Garrett, and he appeared to take the first team reps at middle linebacker during practice. Junior Jamal Brooks could also see an increased role. But defensive coordinator Ryan Walters said it will take more than just Wilkins or Brooks to make up for Garrett’s production, which he described as “video game numbers.”
“We’re not asking for one person to make up for that type of production,” Walters said. “We are asking for everybody. That production has to come from somewhere, so I think it’s gotta come from everybody in order to keep playing at a high level, at an elite level.”
“I think Cam will be fine. Obviously Cale is Cale, and that type of production through four games, I don’t think I’ll ever see that again. But he’ll be alright.”
Tigers prepare to face run-heavy Rebels
Losing a player of Garrett’s caliber never comes at a convenient time, but this week could prove to be an especially difficult test for Wilkins and the Missouri defense. Ole Miss’ offense has come to life in recent weeks with freshman John Rhys Plumlee at quarterback, especially on the ground. The Rebels have topped 200 yards rushing in four of their past five games, including a 413-yard performance last Saturday against Vanderbilt. Odom called their rushing production “staggering.”
“In the run game, the different ways that they attack you, whether it's misdirection, the inside-outside zone action, all the different ways, schematically that they present themselves,” Odom said. “If your eyes are in the wrong spot, then you're going to get gashed and they're going to get some yards.”
Ole Miss features three tailbacks in addition to the dual-threat Plumlee. Senior Scottie Phillips will likely handle the largest workload; he’s rushed for 451 yards on 103 carries on the season. But watch out for the freshman duo of Jerrion Ealy and Snoop Connor, both of whom have proven to be home run threats. Both players are averaging more than seven yards per carry on the season. Ealy scored on a 78-yard rush against Vanderbilt and Connor on an 83-yarder. Finally, Plumlee’s legs bring another dimension to the Rebel rushing attack. Plumlee racked up 165 yards on the ground last week and is averaging more than 100 rushing yards per game in his three starts.
Missouri has suffocated opposing running games in its last four contests, but the Tigers struggled when facing a dual-threat quarterback in Week One, as they allowed 38 points to Sean Chambers and Wyoming. Odom said the key against Ole Miss will be correcting the biggest issue from that season-opening loss: tackling. The Tigers missed 13 tackles against Wyoming, which was a major reason the Cowboys scored on rushes of 68 and 75 yards.
“We've got to be great tacklers,” Odom said. “And that's not just that position that Cale used to play in. … The other 10 guys, we've got to tackle really well.”
Jeffcoat's absence felt on defensive line
The departure of defensive end Trajan Jeffcoat from the team has been lost in the shuffle a bit amid the injury news that came out of Saturday’s game. But even though Jeffcoat did not play this season due to an elbow injury before he left the roster, Turner said his absence will be felt on the defensive line. Jeffcoat, a sophomore, was projected to start before suffering the injury on Aug. 2.
“(Jeffcoat) can’t be replaced, man,” Turner said. “Just his attitude and what he brings to the team, and not just as a player but as a person. You can’t replace that.”
Missouri did not provide a reason for Jeffcoat’s departure other than to say he is no longer enrolled in the university. Asked Tuesday whether it could be possible for Jeffcoat to return in the future, Odom said “I don't have the information to be able to answer that."
With Jeffcoat off the roster, senior Franklin Agbasimere and freshman Isaiah McGuire figure to continue to see expanded roles. Turner complimented McGuire, saying he has “gotten better every day” during his first season on campus. With Jeffcoat and junior Tre Williams out of Saturday’s game, McGuire played a season-high 24 snaps, third-most among the defensive ends.
“He doesn’t look like a freshman at all, just like his size and physicality, even as a young player,” Turner said. “Dude’s like almost three years younger than me. Sometimes I see him and I’m like damn, he played that better than me, he played that better than I would. … As the weeks go by and he develops more and more, he’ll definitely be able to do more for us.”
Depth chart changes
In addition to replacing Garrett with Wilkins, Missouri made a few other tweaks to its depth chart this week. For one, it appears the offensive line will continue to shuffle. The Tigers have used three unique configurations among its starting five linemen the past three games.
Against Troy, Yasir Durant started at left tackle, Tre’Vour Wallace-Simms at left guard, Trystan Colon-Castillo at center, Case Cook at right guard and Larry Borom at right tackle. On the updated depth chart, Durant and Colon-Castillo remain in their usual spots while Wallace-Simms is back at right guard, where he has played his entire career until Saturday. Cook is listed as the starter at left guard, and Borom and Hyrin White, who has started three games this year, are co-starters at right tackle.
During practice, however, that lineup appeared to change again. Cook sat out of practice due to what Odom termed a “tight back.” In his absence, Borom lined up at left guard and White at right tackle. Odom said Cook “will be fine.”
The team also made a change at wide receiver, where freshman Maurice Massey has been bumped off the two-deep. He has been replaced at wideout by sophomore Dominic Gicinto, who was previously listed in the slot. Massey, who drew positive reviews during fall camp, did not see the field against Troy, but Odom said he is healthy.
“His habits last week didn't align with what we thought he needed to do to be in position to go play on Saturday,” Odom explained. “They know every week's a new week, and go earn it, you'll go play on Saturday. There is still a chance he's going to be a really good player. He's got good skill.”
Finally, Missouri will likely be without punt returner Richaud Floyd this week after Floyd left last week’s game with a hamstring injury. Slot receiver Johnathon Johnson is listed as the starting punt returner in Floyd’s place. While Floyd didn’t participate in Tuesday’s practice, Odom described him as more day-to-day than week-to-week.
Haley thanks Odom, Mizzou for support
After the Troy game, Odom gave a shoutout to defensive line coach Brick Haley, who coached the game despite the death of his brother last week. Tuesday, Haley returned the gratitude in Odom’s direction, praising him and the rest of the athletics department for their support.
"Let me tell you something, I've worked for a lot of head coaches, and this has been really, really special to me,” Haley said. “Coach Odom is a special dude. I wish the people in this community and this university and just around the state knew what an exceptional man he is. He's been incredible to me and my family and my son. This town has opened up a lot of doors for my son, being autistic. The facilities and the help that they have has been tremendous. I can tell you that coach Odom has been there with us every step of the way, helping us adjust to the things that we need to and giving us time. All the different things, with my brother, my mom passing, all that happening within a year's time, he's been very, very supportive in everything that we've done, and I can't tell you anymore than I appreciate him with all my heart and the things that he's done for me and my family."