Q&A with defensive coordinator and safeties coach Blake Baker

Mizzou defensive coordinator and safeties coach Blake Baker spoke to the media earlier this week about what the defense needs to do to get better, working in some of the younger defensive backs into the rotation, why fans should be excited about the defense and much more.

https://n.rivals.com/content/athletes/tyler-hibbler-240251- With Martez Manuel on the way out, you’ve got Daylan Carnell taking over the STAR position. What did you see from him towards the end of last year and have you seen anything in practice that will let you know he will take a step forward this season?

“What I saw from Daylan last year was that he was extremely productive. His playing time showed that. They (Manuel and Carnell) weren’t quite 50-50, but they were almost there. Again, the one thing I wanted to do was to make sure that I didn’t get complacent. So, bringing in guys like Sidney Williams and Tre’Vez Johnson 一 we’re also going to move Tyler Hibbler to that spot as well.

“Iron sharpens iron and I think he (Carnell) will continue to get better. Last year, he was kind of emerging. This year, now he has more of a bullseye on him as far as the expectation level for him is much higher than it was last year because people didn’t really know 一 myself included. He was new to the position and all that good stuff. So, now I think there’s a different expectation level. So, I’m excited to see how he responds to that expectation level.”

– When the team’s highest recruit (Marvin Burks) is a safety and you have the players in front of him to help develop him, how does that make you feel?

“I had the luxury to see him live a couple of times in his high school career, so I had a high expectations for him coming in here. From a movement skill standpoint, he kind of exceeded that Tuesday (at practice). The thing I love about Marvin is he is a phenomenal kid and he wants to do really well. He’s always asking questions. Yes sir, no sir. He’s really embraced having Jaylon Carlies and Joseph Charleston and those guys who have played a lot of football, and those guys have done a great job embracing him. It’s a true brotherhood in that room and on this team, and to see them already gelling together 一 and not competing against each other but with each other and trying to help him with his game 一 I think he’s got a bright future. I think having those other guys to show him the ropes is just going to expedite his success.”

– Last year, we talked about having a clean slate and not thinking about the year before. What do you take from last year to build on that continuity?

“Yeah, I think the biggest thing I can take is having a much better understanding of what each guy is capable of. Last year, we were going into it brand new. In the same breath, I told the guys Tuesday it’s a new season. If you looked at the previous year there were previous starters that got beat out maybe before the season and throughout the season. Be it one game, two games, be it the rest of the season.

“The culture on the defensive side of the ball will always be about competition and if we don’t have that it’s very hard to be the best version of what we can be. If we lose that we lose everything. I think it helps with morale as well when guys really believe they have a chance to beat out a returning starter because it’s been proven that it happened multiple times last year. That will make them work that much harder for this spot. Sometimes, you get in a lull and say ‘this guy is a returning starter and played 13 games there’s no way I’m going to beat this guy out.’

“We made it very clear that we are going to play the best guys. I tell them I’m an equal-opportunity employer. Whoever produces the most is going to play. I think that culture has been set and we will continue to not get complacent. So, it’s kind of a fine line because we want to take care of those guys who played over 1,000 snaps last year, but you want to give these other guys a chance to compete.

“We’ve explained to them that this is their time. We are giving you an opportunity as those guys are taking care of their bodies. Those guys are still going to get reps, especially the front seven guys we’re just not going to bang them as much. So, take advantage of those reps.

“The other cool thing is those older guys are really taking the younger guys in. It’s not like you’re coming for my spot. The deal this year compared to last year is I think they know the expectations are much higher. I think there was some uncertainty coming into last season like a new coordinator coming off of a year that wasn’t ideal. And they know the way for us to get there is if everyone plays a role. So, it’s been cool to see.”

– When you talk about challenges from year one to year two, what kind of challenges do you face as a defensive coordinator?

“Trying to do too much, especially in spring ball. I’ve got to keep telling myself we’ve got to go back to the basics. We’ve got to start back fundamentally and not speed up the install because last year we didn’t have much of a choice. I got promoted and then we had two 20-minute walkthroughs and we’re hitting the field. So, we were very simple, but I think it paid off. Once you understand concepts and you have good fundamentals, now you’re able to do much more, and that’s what I’ve got to be careful of installing too much and then they’re not getting their fundamental work. So, it’s a fine line from that standpoint. My staff does a good job of saying ‘man that’s too much,’ and we scale it.”

– In fall camp, I asked you why should Mizzou fans be excited about the defense considering you were the third defensive coordinator in three years. Now that the whole defensive coaching staff has returned and most of the starters from a top-30 defense, why should Mizzou fans be excited about this defense now?

“Some similarities in the fact that we are always going to hunt negative plays. We’re always creating havoc plays. I think we finished first in the SEC and top 10 in the nation in that category. One of our big goals this year is more takeaways. I think we ended up with 18. We always want to finish the season with 20-25 or more. So, hopefully, more takeaways this year.”

– Another year under the belt for safeties Tyler Jones, Tyler Hibbler and Isaac Thompson. What are you looking for out of them so they can get some playing time in this deep secondary group?

“This spring and every spring is about individual player development. So, I tell them we have to have a depth chart for organization, but I want to see those guys continue to grow. We’re actually going to move Hibbler to the STAR position and one practice into it he looked pretty good. Thompson didn’t have spring ball last year because he was still in high school. So, by the time he really got rocking and rolling he was behind the eight ball. So, I think this is a huge spring for him moving forward as far as what kind of role he can provide for us in the fall. The same goes for Jones, but with Thompson, I think he’s got to prove this spring he has to prove he can be a contributor because athletically he can do it.”

– You mentioned before the potential for Darius Robinson to be a first or second-round pick with the potential that’s there. When you move from defensive tackle to defensive end what kind of attributes does he show that he can make the move successfully?

“For one, I think just power. He’s got sheer power and arm length, and he can really put that on display because there are a lot of times it’s more one on one. For tackles, you’re usually getting combo or double-teamed, so show that individual power and that versatility. I’ve talked to him and I’m not saying he’s this guy yet, but from a skill set to me it could be similar to J.J. Watt and move him around and try to put the on mismatches. He combines a great deal of speed and power. I think him being able to show that will show NFL teams 一 eams that run 3-4 look for something different than 4-3 teams, and now he’s really expanding that skill set and putting it on tape for all 32 teams.”