Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
COLUMBIA — Kentrell Brothers did a lot of talking on the first day of fall camp. The senior linebacker began the year with his fair share of complaints — everything from falling to a third-team all-Southeastern Conference preseason selection to not being chosen as a team captain.
With the season underway, Brothers is done talking. Heck, he isn’t even thinking anymore.
Brothers was running on instinct Saturday when he racked up 16 tackles against Southeast Missouri State, the fourth highest total of any player under coach Gary Pinkel.
“What he’s doing right now, there’s no thinking,” Pinkel said. “He’s just going. He sees it, and there’s no second-and-a-half, two, three seconds inside there, where (he thinks), ‘OK, I need to go here.’ That’s good.”
Brothers said his preseason motivation is less of a factor now that he has bigger things to focus on.
“I talk a lot about that stuff before the season starts, but once the game actually starts I don’t really think too much about it,” he said. “I just go out there and do whatever I can to win and that’s what I did on Saturday.”
Brothers had eight solo tackles — twice as many as any other Tiger had against the Redhawks — and a team-high one and a half tackles for loss. His 16 tackles were the most of any SEC player last weekend, and only one other player had more tackles nationwide (Tulsa’s Michael Mudoh had 20). Only two Missouri players — Sean Weatherspoon (20 one time and 17 another) and Andrew Wilson (17) — have had more tackles in a game since Pinkel came to Missouri in 2001.
“Once you’re in the zone like that, you really don’t really think about anything,” Brothers said. “You just run. So it was a good feeling. I just tried to play off of it.”
Instinct is important at a position like linebacker, where split-second decisions have to be made at the start of each play.
“The three toughest positions to play, this is my opinion, are quarterback, offensive line and linebacker,” Pinkel said. “… Honestly, it’s mind-boggling.”
Brothers’ instincts are the product of hours of film study — something offensive coordinator Josh Henson said Brothers does more than any player on the team.
“He’s in there all the time watching film, watching tape,” said Henson, who recruited Brothers out of Guthrie, Okla. “He’s a football junkie.”
Before speaking with members of the media Monday, Brothers had already studied the tape of Missouri’s next opponent, Arkansas State, from Saturday’s game at Southern California.
He said he could tell the film he watched of SEMO paid off Saturday.
“Most of the time I know exactly what they’re going to run,” he said. “I mean, I wasn’t able to stop it every time, but I have somewhat of an idea of what play is going to come, and if I can continue that really good film study, I can continue to tackle like that.”
Those instincts were evident even in high school, Henson said.
“He was around every play, and you could see in his play that he understood what was happening on the other side and where he needed to be to make the play on defense,” Henson said. “But I think he’s honed those instincts even greater at this level.
“I just think when you watch him play the game, there’s so many little things to the naked eye you maybe don’t look at and go, ‘Wow, that’s really, really good,’ but he does so many little things right.”
But in high school, Brothers never had 16 tackles in a game. He said this year his focus has been on determining when he can take risks on defense and when he should play it safe. In fall camp, he made sure to ask new defensive coordinator Barry Odom when he would have help on defense so he could pursue big plays — something he was a bit more hesitant with last year.
“I still was kind of scared to take these risks in some places” last season, he said. “Especially against real good teams where if I miss a tackle, something like that, it could hurt us a lot. So I made sure to step it up a little bit with coach Odom and them this summer.”
With stalwart defensive ends Shane Ray and Markus Golden now in the NFL, the impetus to make those big plays is on Brothers more than ever.
“Last year, I feel like I developed a lot better and learned a lot of new things to get me ready,” he said. “But with M.G. and Shane Ray gone, I had to take it to that next level and now find out these areas, again, where I can afford to be risky. I also need to take those risks regardless, because that’s what playmakers do. So that’s what I’m trying to do this year, and hopefully it works.”
So far, so good.