Al Davis brings new attitude to Mizzou defensive line | Mizzou Sports News

COLUMBIA, Mo. – Whether it was a temporary promotion or an audition, when Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz thrust Al Davis into a new role midway through last season, the young staffer knew what he had to do.

Everywhere he’s coached defensive linemen, from the high school level to the junior college ranks, in both the Southeastern Conference and the Big Ten, Davis always has given his group the same nickname: Trench Mob. When Drinkwitz fired his veteran D-line coach five games into 2021 and put Davis in charge for the rest of the season, Davis didn’t flinch.

The Mizzou Trench Mob was born. He didn’t throw away the D-line-ZOU moniker that’s been around since Gary Pinkel began sending D-linemen to the NFL almost each year, but Davis had to create an identity to restore his group’s confidence.

“I gave them something to buy into,” he said, “something that wasn’t of the norm.”

What does Trench Mob mean? It’s not easily defined. It’s an attitude. It’s a style. It’s a commitment to Davis’ teachings. Most important, it’s a brotherhood. At 31, Davis isn’t much older than the players Drinkwitz tasked him to lead, but he knows what resonates with their generation di lui.

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“Something needed to change because things weren’t going good,” he said last week as the Tigers continued spring practices. “Then I gave them something to buy into. With young kids, they take that to heart. They do it on video games all the time. They get on Fortnite and they’re with a group of people. Whatever their group name is it’s them versus the other people. So that’s what I kind of did. I gave them something to believe in, something that they should take serious. It’s not a joke. “

Through the first month of 2021, Mizzou’s defense was atrocious, notably its experienced but underachieving defensive line, the unit the coaches and players had touted as the team’s best heading into the season. The day after Tennessee ran for 458 yards and five touchdowns in a 62-24 thrashing – the most points MU has allowed at Memorial Stadium – Drinkwitz fired first-year D-line coach Jethro Franklin. Davis, who joined the staff earlier in the year as an analyst, took over.

A former nose tackle, team captain and honor-roll student at Arkansas, Davis relied on a risk-management plan he learned in graduate school in Fayetteville. The premise, he said, matched the situation he faced.

“You are a substitute teacher, and this class is suffering and this teacher has to be gone for a while, you have to step in and be the permanent sub the rest of the year,” said Davis, who coached at Illinois in 2020 before coming to MU. “What are your tactics? To me… it’s about the foundation that you laid. “

That first day as the new D-line coach, Davis made one thing clear: The Tigers were done getting overwhelmed on the line of scrimmage. He called that first meeting “raw and uncut.”

But he didn’t use his new platform to degrade or embarrass his players. One change he made immediately was to invite his linemen to individual film sessions.

“I think we needed that time because when stuff’s not going good, everybody’s sensitive,” he said. “And it was not going good. So if you tried to talk to them about a mistake, they all got really defensive. So I just unarmed them. ‘Hey, come sit in my office. This is just me and you. You don’t have to worry about the rest of the guys watching you make a mistake on the film. ‘ It gave me a different level of focus. It allowed me to sit down and be able to get my point across every single time that I’m working with a kid. “

Gradually, the results improved. Davis’ front four began making impact plays, pressures, sacks, tackles for losses, interceptions. The Tigers held their ground at No. 1 Georgia, limited South Carolina to 57 yards rushing and won the line of scrimmage against Florida. The progress was unmistakable – and no coincidence it came after the coaching change.

“He’s a really good energizer, a really good communicator,” defensive tackle Darius Robinson said. “I definitely learned a lot from him since he took over. I’m just grateful we have him because I definitely feel like my game has gotten better with him in our room. “

“He’s a players’ coach,” D-tackle Realus George Jr. added, “but he gets the job done.”

Reporters aren’t given access to Drinkwitz’s position coaches during the season, so Davis couldn’t publicly endorse himself for the permanent D-line job during the year. But he couldn’t help notice his players di lui raving about his methods di lui in their interviews.

“Part of coaching football is the Xs and Os and the recruiting and all that. But if they like you they’ll run through a brick wall for you, ”he said. “That’s one thing I got going for me. I say, ‘Hey, I’m not like a father figure. I’m like the older uncle that’s played in this conference. ‘ Everything they’ve done, I’ve already done. Because I’m younger I have to take a different approach. They’ve got to take me serious and know that I’m their coach and not their friend. But at the same time, you don’t want to always walk in the room and be all authoritarian. I’m already a big, old dude. So when I yell, that’s one thing, right? But you also still want to win those guys over and have them on your side. And I think that’s what I was able to do early on. They were on my side. I had dudes that were advocates for me. “

Davis recalled an image that spread on social media showing him yelling at his players before a game in the second half of the season. What exactly was the loquacious coach saying?

“’I know my mama is watching the game,’” he said. “That’s what I was saying.”

That’s it? Not quite. The full answer speaks to the coach’s fiery approach that draws on his players’ emotions di lui.

“I wasn’t talking about football,” he said. “I was telling them, ‘Hey, listen, right now everybody’s waiting to see what we gonna do. We’ve got two options: We can get it done or we gonna look stupid. And I ain’t looking stupid. ‘

“That’s all I was saying to them. It had nothing to do with football. ‘Don’t go out here and embarrass yourself. Go strain and we’ll deal with the result later. Go play, go have fun, go play football. ‘”

Sure enough, Drinkwitz offered Davis the full-time job after the season with a two-year contract and $ 325,000 salary. But Davis had a request: How about some help? Davis felt stretched thin trying to coach both the tackles and the ends last season and believed the Tigers could practice more efficiently with a second D-line coach. Drinkwitz agreed. He brought in the man who Davis credits for revitalizing his college career than him. At Arkansas, Kevin Peoples took over as Davis’ position coach in 2012 ahead of his senior season. He taught Davis some new techniques that helped turn him into a more effective playmaker – his tackles di lui nearly doubled from his junior year – and the two remained close after Davis’ playing career. Now, they’ll split the D-line duties, with Davis coaching the tackles and Peoples the edge rushers. Peoples spent the last two seasons at Indiana.

“We only have one set of eyes,” Peoples said. “So the more sets of eyes we get on the guys, the better.”

Four eyes and at least one tireless mouth. Davis held court with reporters for nearly an hour last week, taking full advantage to show off the staff’s most outsized personality.

This much he knows going into 2022: His players are bought in.

“Now, when I ask them to jump, they say, ‘How high?’” He said. “If I say run through a wall, they say, ‘Which wall, coach?'”

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