Blake Baker’s time coaching at Missouri has already been fast and furious.
Baker was hired as the Tigers’ safeties coach, then earned a promotion just weeks later. He’s now the defensive coordinator, tasked with toeing a very fine line.
He wants to take what was successful in 2021 and put it on the forefront — but he also wants the 2022 defense to be its own entity, not dwelling on how the 2021 defense played.
“This is a Blake Baker’s defense,” Baker said. “I do have a lot of trust and a lot of faith in a short period of time with the guys in our room of being able to kind of bridge some of the stuff they did last year.”
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One of the top priorities since the end of the 2021 Missouri football season was to improve the defense. So far, the defense has gotten an overhaul.
Joining Baker in coming to Columbia are defensive ends coach Kevin Peoples and cornerbacks coach Al Pogue, while linebackers coach D.J. Smith assumes a co-defensive coordinator title.
With that overhaul comes a learning curve. However, Baker, much like the other new coaches, is aiming to lean on past experiences, the relationship with MU coach Eli Drinkwitz and the current coaches on staff to acclimate to their new roles in Columbia.
“The first thing I told the guys when I came in is there does have to be one voice at the end of the day,” Baker said. “But, by no means am I a dictator.”
Part of implementing a new system includes using some of the base parts of former defensive coordinator Steve Wilks’ system and implementing them into his 2022 defense. That will help continuity, but will also keep players from getting too confused.
More: Mizzou football has questions at quarterback during spring camp, Baker ascends to defensive coordinator
It’s easier said than done.
“We do want to try to carry over as much as possible from a terminology standpoint,” Baker said Monday. “Sometimes we’re able to do that very easily and sometimes it just doesn’t maybe mesh with what we’ve done in the past from a terminology standpoint.”
Baker noted Smith’s assistance as co-defensive coordinator has helped in finding different calls and terms to carry over, as Smith was Wilks’ linebackers coach in 2022.
It does help this isn’t Baker’s first time calling a defense. He previously was the defensive coordinator for Miami and Louisiana Tech before moving to coach linebackers at LSU.
In those two experiences as a defensive coordinator, he’s learned to move away from having a flashy defense and to focus more on what makes a defense successful: the fundamentals.
“When I was a young coordinator, you probably want to be the hot name and have all these guru calls and the perfect call,” Baker said. “Fundamentals win you games. When you talk about tackling, talk about getting off blocks and that’s something that’s really hit me between the eyes, I would say, in the last couple years.”
That’s why Baker will spend most of the spring filming practices and watching individual drills to pinpoint where fundamentals can improve.
Baker’s influences as a defensive coach stem from Will Muschamp, Manny Diaz, Mack Brown and Skip Holtz. Those influences, as well as the influences from the current Missouri football roster, will combine to field a thorough defense eventually.
Baker’s timetable for having a scheme implemented will stretch to the fall.
For now, in the spring, he wants to focus on getting to know the roster better while focusing on fundamentals.
“As coaches, a lot of times you want to install, install, install, install,” Baker said. “I think we can get a thousand times better fundamentally right now.”
New quarterbacks coach Bush Hamdan, shifting over from wide receivers, will have a hefty task. He’s now playing a part in evaluating who will be Missouri’s next starting quarterback.
Drinkwitz said there won’t be a starter named in the spring, with incoming freshman Sam Horn getting a chance to compete for the starting spot as well.
However, Hamdan did say what he’s looking for during the springtime with the quarterbacks.
Hamdan wants to see which quarterback displays an understanding of the decision-making required from both Brady Cook and Tyler Macon.
“So much of it comes down to decision-making,” Hamdan said. “We take more value in the throws they don’t make sometimes.”
Hamdan mentioned how the value placed on big-play throws is noteworthy. However, the team will value protecting the football. This includes plays as simple as a check-down or throwaway.
Hamdan will now take the reins of the quarterback room, as Drinkwitz will spend more time with the rest of the roster. Hamdan’s presence shows there’s a requirement in making sure someone spends time with the most important position on offense at all times.
The quarterbacks Hamdan has now in Brady Cook and Tyler Macon are also moving up in learning the offense. While they spent time previously learning the formations and verbiage, now they can focus on more specific details this spring.
“We’re excited about the guys in the room and we’re excited to get to work,” Hamdan said.
Monday was the first time defensive line coach Al Davis met with reporters since having his interim title removed and being tasked with coaching the interior defensive line.
It was hard to miss Davis. He was the loudest voice in the room, something that he prides himself on. 
He also prides himself on being the “older uncle” to his players — the kind of coach that calls every defensive line he’s coached the “Trench Mob,” bases some of his coaching techniques on what he learned in graduate school and uses his experience as a former SEC defensive tackle to show the lineman they can learn from him.
Davis was in the same spot MU’s linemen were in just a few years ago, which makes him relatable to his players but different from other coaches at the same time.
“I am younger, I do have to take a different approach,” Davis said. “I got to make sure they take me serious. And they know that I’m their coach, not their friend, but at the same time you don’t wanna always walk in the room and be authoritarian.”
So, if Davis is the cooler, “older uncle,” that makes new defensive ends coach Kevin Peoples more of the father figure.
“He laid the smackdown,” Davis said. “Me, I’m laying a smackdown, but it’s coming at a different angle.”
Chris Kwiecinski is the sports editor for the Columbia Daily Tribune, overseeing University of Missouri and Boone County sports coverage. Follow him on Twitter @OchoK_ and contact him at CKwiecinsk@gannett.com, or 435 414-3261.

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