Position Reset: Safety
The second Missouri football season of the Eli Drinkwitz era has come and gone. The Tigers started the 2021 campaign slow, losing early swing games at Kentucky and Boston College and getting blown out by Tennessee, but then rallied late to win six games and attain bowl eligibility. After falling to Army on the final play of the Armed Forces Bowl, Mizzou finished the season 6-7.
Now, it's time to take stock of the roster. Missouri, like virtually every other team, has already seen several players enter the transfer portal since the season ended. More attrition is expected. In this series, we go position by position to break down which players are expected to return and where the team could stand to add a difference-maker. In our final installment, we will take a look at the Tiger safeties. If you missed any of the previous position resets, they are linked at the bottom of this article.
Entering the 2021 campaign, Missouri had to replace two multi-year starters at safety in Joshuah Bledsoe and Tyree Gillespie. Steve Wilks and company did so pretty successfully, in part by restructuring the secondary a bit.
Martez Manuel, who started every game of the 2020 season, continued playing his strong safety spot. Manuel had to spend a bit more time in coverage than he had in Ryan Walters' scheme, but he was still plenty involved around the line of scrimmage. Manuel totaled 77 tackles — second-most on the team — including 4.5 sacks. He also broke up three passes and had an interception. Manuel was joined in the starting lineup by converted cornerback Jaylon Carlies. Carlies, playing his third different position in as many years, flashed difference-making potential at deep safety. The hard-hitter logged 67 tackles as well as a team-high four interceptions and a forced fumble. Carlies did get beat deep a few times in coverage, but there's reason for optimism that he will continue to bring a big-play element to Missouri's defense while cutting down on the mistakes as he gains more experience at safety.
Generally, Missouri only started two safeties in Wilks' 4-2-5 base defense, replacing Bledsoe with nickel corner Kris Abrams-Draine. But when the Tigers did go with a heavier look, Shawn Robinson typically took over at nickel. The former quarterback showed a willingness to hit, recording 31 tackles on the season, including 3.5 for loss. Robinson missed six games due to injury and was typically replaced by Stacy Brown.
Departing: Shawn Robinson, Mason Pack
The fact that Robinson successfully transitioned to the defensive side of the ball after getting beat out at quarterback and actually played meaningful snaps was remarkable. Drinkwitz and players uniformly raved about Robinson as a teammate. However, after the season concluded, Robinson opted to enter the transfer portal, and he has since enrolled at Kansas State. Pack was a former walk-on who mostly contributed on special teams.
Returning: Martez Manuel, Jaylon Carlies, Jalani Williams, Stacy Brown, Tyler Jones, Tyler Hibbler
Missouri will get plenty of experience back at safety due to the return of Manuel and Carlies. Manuel, a team captain, has started 23 games in his Missouri career. Carlies started 10 games a year ago. Williams has played a fair amount in his three years as a Tiger, as well. Williams, who backed up Carlies at free safety a year ago, appeared in 10 games in 2021, playing more than 30 snaps in three of them.
Brown, Jones and Hibbler add depth at the position. Brown is the eldest of the group. Entering his fourth season, Brown recorded 10 tackles a year ago. Jones mainly saw action on special teams. Hibbler appeared in just two games during his first season of college football but could take on a larger role with a full offseason under his belt.
Incoming: Joseph Charleston, Isaac Thompson
Charleston was Missouri's first transfer addition after the season ended. The former Clemson starter is an intriguing player who will likely contend for playing time right away, although what his role will look like is unclear. As a redshirt freshman in 2020, Charleston appeared in 11 games and started six at strong safety. He recorded 44 tackles. However, last season he was replaced in the starting lineup by star freshman Andrew Mukuba, and he entered the transfer portal after three games. Thompson was one of Missouri's top in-state targets in the 2022 recruiting class but seems likely to redshirt his first college season after he tore his ACL last fall.
Projected Starters: Carlies, Manuel
It would come as a bit of a surprise if either of the returning starters are supplanted. Manuel has the most starting experience of anyone on the Missouri defense and the coaching staff has raved about Carlies' potential. If he can take another step forward in his development, he could be a future pro.
Spring Practice storyline to watch: Where will Charleston play? He almost certainly didn't transfer to Missouri to be a backup, but with both Carlies and Manuel back, it's unclear where the staff will use him. Charleston could play the role that belonged to Robinson last season and also potentially rotate with Manuel. There's also a slim chance that the staff could switch Carlies back to cornerback, where Missouri lacks experience, but given Carlies' success at safety last season that seems unlikely. Spring practices should give us our first glimpse and how Charleston fits into the defense.