Seen, not heard
Donavin Newsom isn't a guy that regularly shows up for interviews, but this season, he's allowing his impact on the field to be seen, rather than heard.
For the last year, Gary Pinkel raved about Newsom's athleticism and speed. Over the past few weeks, Newsom's attributes have resulted in increased production. The redshirt junior from St. Louis has totaled 4.5 tackles-for-loss and 2.5 sacks from his strong-side linebacker position, adding another element to Missouri's defensive pressure that ranks first in the SEC in TFLs (57) and third in sacks (19).
It's been the best three-week stretch of Newsom's career. He had 3.5 TFLs in his previous 31 games, and no sacks in that span.
"Last year, he was a guy that was always around, on all the kick-off returns, all the punt returns," Pinkel said. "He was down there all the time, but never made any plays. Now this year, all of a sudden a light bulb goes off. It started in spring football."
Defensive coordinator Barry Odom talked about Newsom's potential early on after he was hired to replace Dave Steckel. With Odom's defense being a bit more aggressive and varied, Newsom gave Odom options.
Through half a season, we're seeing exactly what Newsom can do for the shape of Missouri's defense.
"He's giving us some versatility to do some things out of base defense that I haven't had the luxury to do before," Odom said. "He has tremendous speed and quickness. Some things we ask him to do, coverage-wise, we normally wouldn't have a linebacker do, but he's held up pretty well. He's been good in the box against the run. I mean, he's 245 pounds and runs pretty well, and is a smart player.
"As the season has gone on, he feels more comfortable in his role and has become a better player. It's important to him, to be a good player."
Kentrell Brothers said Newsom's recent improvement is because he's coupling his athletic gifts with more time in the film room.
"It's obviously translating to his game this whole season," Brothers said. "Once I'm out of here and Scherer's out of here - well, I guess they're in the same class, but basically Coach Odom should be happy about what's coming from Donavin."
There's also the possible question of where Newsom will fit next season, after Brothers graduates. Typically, the weakside linebacker - Brothers' position - is always Missouri's most voluminous tackler. Newsom, for his ability to affect plays in the backfield, only has 26 tackles so far this season. But, given his talent, could he slide over to fill a big void left by Brothers?
At this point, Odom cross-trains his linebackers at all positions, and he said Newsom's athleticism is rare for his posision.
"There's some things we ask the SAM to do that a couple guys on the roster couldn't do," Odom said, "guys that are playing MIKE and WILL right now. He's pretty natural at that spot, so I think when we go to some of our nickel or other sub-packages, he's playing a lot of different roles."
Brothers, however, thinks Newsom could be a good fit for his spot.
"He'll probably get moved to WILL," Brothers said. "The WILL, it doesn't seem like it, but it's a lot different from SAM so there's a lot of stuff he'd have to learn. But that's definitely a spot I think he would succeed at.
"When I first got here and got moved to WILL, Coach Kul (Craig Kuligowski) always told me the WILL is one of the most athletic, smarter guys. I was like, 'Well, I'm not one of the more athletic, but I'm one of the smarter guys.' They would always lead the team in tackles. Newsom is one of those guys I could just see to really take that spot on, especially with his athletic ability. Since he's learning the game so well, I think it would just translate really well."
Either way, Newsom is picking up his production at SAM, becoming an extension of Missouri's defensive line. That will continue to likely be seen - not heard.