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2011 Missouri Preview – Defense
Missouri DE Jacquies Smith
Missouri DE Jacquies Smith
Posted May 10, 2011 2011 Preview - Missouri Defense

Missouri Tigers

Preview 2011 - Defense

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What You Need To Know: The run defense got ripped to shreds way too easily and there weren’t nearly enough key stops considering the Tigers were among the best in America at getting into the backfield. Even with the concerns, the D finished first in the Big 12 and sixth in the nation in scoring defense, allowing just 16.08 points per game, and finished third in the nation in total defense. The key will once again be the pass rush that led the Big 12 and should be dominant, even with Aldon Smith off to the NFL. The line has at least two good pass rushing options at each corner spot, and the tackles have the athleticism to make things happen behind the line. The back seven might not have a slew of all-stars, but it’ll be fast and should fly around to clean up everything the strong line doesn’t get to. This is an aggressive, fast defense that will shut down the mediocre offenses cold.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Zaviar Gooden, 85
Sacks: Brad Madison, 7.5
Interceptions: Several at 2

Star of the defense: Junior DE Brad Madison
Player who has to step up and be a star: Sophomore CB E.J. Gaines
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore FS Tavon Bolden
Best pro prospect: Senior NT Dominique Hamilton
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Madison, 2) Hamilton, 3) LB Zaviar Gooden
Strength of the defense: Pass Rush, Front Seven Experience
Weakness of the defense: Run Defense, Sure-Thing Secondary Starters

Defensive Line

State of the Unit: The line was terrific at getting into the backfield, and it wasn’t just Aldon Smith. The tremendous NFL talent left school early, taking his 5.5 sacks, ten tackles for loss, and relentless pressure with him, but the Tigers have several other options returning. Now the line gets back four starters and plenty of good backups to expect a strong season.

While Smith was the star of the show, junior Brad Madison turned out to be the team’s best pass rusher finishing with a team-leading 7.5 sacks and 11 tackles for loss. He only started two games, but he came up with 32 tackles and was devastating when turned loose at getting into the backfield. Relentless, he uses his 6-4, 265-pound size and excellent initial burst extremely well. The motor combined with his athleticism should equal an all-star season at one end after earning second-team honors, while 6-5, 250-pound redshirt freshman Kony Ealy did enough this offseason to show that he can be a pass rushing specialist. Unstoppable at times in spring ball, he’s extremely fast and extremely athletic; he could be the next Aldon Smith with a little bit of time.

Ready to get more of the spotlight on the outside is senior Jacquies Smith , a 6-4, 255-pound speedster who overcame an ankle injury early in his career to become a devastating, Second Team All-Big 12 performer who came up with 35 tackles with 5.5 sacks, ten tackles for loss, and two forced fumbles. One of the team’s most disruptive forces, he’s a dangerous starter who might not be consistent, but he’ll rip apart opposing offenses from time to time. 6-3, 255-pound sophomore Michael Sam is on the way to being a star after earning Freshman All-America honors registering 24 tackles with 3.5 sacks and seven tackles for loss, including an interception returned for a score, showing immense promise for the rotation.

Looking to stuff up the middle on the nose is veteran Dominique Hamilton , a 6-5, 305-pound senior who started seven times last year before getting knocked out with a foot injury. He was growing into an all-star with 20 tackles and 1.5 sacks and two tackles for loss as the anchor of the line, but the foot injury will keep him out of the mix until just before the season. While he’s a bit tall for the nose, he’s a terrific interior pass rusher who could be a whale of a 3-4 end at the next level. Until he’s back at 100%, the line will count on 6-2, 285-pound sophomore Marvin Foster , a very smart, very good player when healthy. He struggled through a knee injury and a torn pectoral muscle early in his career, and he was only able to make two tackles in five games.

At 6-5 and 295 pounds, senior Terrell Resonno is a big interior presence who started to play up to his potential last year with 35 tackles with two sacks and four tackles for loss in an Honorable Mention All-Big 12 campaign. He’s a run stopper who’s decent at getting into the backfield, but not terrific considering he has the athleticism and the quick burst of an end. He has the right combination of skills to get the next-level types interested, but it’s just starting to come together. Now he has to be more consistent. In the rotation will be spot-starter Jimmy Burge , a 6-2, 290-pound junior who started six times last year and finished with 16 tackles. Now he has to start making more plays in the backfield and has to start living up to his immense hype as one of the team’s top recruits from a few years ago.

If Sheldon Richardson can qualify, he’ll be one of the team’s top defensive tackles coming into the fall. The 6-4, 270-pound four-star JUCO transfer has tremendous size and the quickness to work on the end. He could’ve gone anywhere with NFL talent and ability to anchor anyone’s line, but Mizzou got him. Now he has to be ready after trying to become a Tiger for the last few years.

Watch Out For … Richardson. If he’s able to go, he’s so good that he can step into a veteran, deep line and instantly be the best player by far. Alabama, Auburn, USC and Oregon wanted him, but he has always been hovering around the Missouri program and he should end up being terrific.
Strength: Pass rushing. How do you lose Aldon Smith and not even feel it? The Tigers have player after player who can get into the backfield and to the quarterback on a regular basis. Jacques Smith and Madison are stars in the making, while Ealy is a special talent who could be the team’s next big thing.
Weakness: Run defense. For all the big plays made behind the line, Mizzou struggled against the teams that could actually run the ball. Roy Helu had the greatest rushing day in the history of Nebraska football, San Diego State’s Ronnie Hillman and Iowa’s Marcus Coker, among others, also went ballistic.
Outlook: The line could be the team’s biggest strength, and that includes a receiving corps that gets everyone back from a wildly productive unit. Even with Smith gone, Smith, Sam, Madison and Ealy can all get into the backfield and they can all terrorize the quarterback. If Resonno and Hamilton can be more dangerous in the middle, the line will destroy offenses after making 38 sacks.
Unit Rating: 8.5


State of the Unit: The linebacking corps had to replace heart-and-soul leader Sean Weatherspoon and ended up doing just fine. There might not have been a killer like Weatherspoon, but there was plenty of production at all three spots. Now the key will be to find a new strongside linebacker while the depth has to come through to form a good rotation.

Back after leading the team with 85 tackles, three sacks, and 7.5 tackles for loss is junior Zaviar Gooden , a 6-2, 225-pound weakside defender who’s very smart and very fast. All over the field, he came up with two picks and three sacks with 7.5 tackles for loss as he showed off his reported 4.3 speed and tremendous open-field tackling ability to earn Honorable Mention All-Big 12 honors. An elite athlete, he’ll blow up the NFL Combine whenever he’s ready to leave. 6-2, 225-pound redshirt freshman Darvin Ruise can play anywhere in the linebacking corps but he should be outstanding on the weakside. The great recruit out of Florida has the speed and safety-like athleticism to become a statistical star when he gets his chances.

Back in the middle is tough senior Will Ebner after fighting through a knee injury a few years ago to finish as the team’s third leading tackler before making 47 tackles last year. Very smart and very good when he’s able to stay on the field, he hurt his foot and was only able to start in eight games, but when he’s right, and that’s never a given with him, he’s an all-star talent who brings the big hits and is a tone-setting leader who beats people up. Considering Ebner’s injuries issues, senior Luke Lambert needs to be healthy and ready to shine in the middle after missing most of last year with knee and hamstring problems. He got a sixth year of eligibility and he’ll try to recapture his pre-injury form after making 58 tackles a few seasons ago. While he was listed as a backup coming out of spring ball, that could change come fall when he’s back and ready to roll at full strength.

For the time being, sophomore Andrew Wilson will get the call on the strongside after making 42 tackles as a key reserve and a starter in three games. The team’s top special teamer, he’s great at making the big plays and showed he could also do big things in the linebacking corps. A nice recruit with 6-3, 230-pound size, he’s starting to show what he can do as a light-him-up hitter who’ll do anything the coaching staff needs. He’ll combine with sophomore Donovan Bonner , who has all the talent and all the tools, but he has to come back healthy after missing all of last year with a knee problem. With 6-2, 235-pound size, he has the look of being the team’s next great linebacker. Now he has to prove that he has the great range he showed off before getting hurt.

Watch Out For … Lambert. While he might not be the flashiest linebacker around, he’s a great hitter and a sure veteran who can step in at the open strongside job or in the middle if he’s 100% healthy. He’ll make a big impact somewhere.
Strength: Options. As long as everyone is healthy, the Tigers should be loaded with excellent options for the rotation. Lambert and Bonner are terrific players who need to be able to go full-tilt, and if they’re right, there will be at least two great options for each spot.
Weakness: Run defense. There might be lots of good tacklers and plenty of athletes, but the linebackers were gouged way too often last year. If you listen quietly, you can hear Roy Helu and Marcus Coker cranking out another big gain.
Outlook: The Mizzou linebackers are always maddening. Just when they seem like they should dominate, they struggle against the run and they look like they’ve never seen an open field tackle they didn’t like to miss. There’s no excuse to be anything less than sensational this year with experience, depth, and a lot of talent, but consistency will be the buzzword, especially against the better ground games.
Unit Rating: 7

Defensive Backs

State of the Unit: Partly because several teams spent all their time running the ball, and partly because the receiving corps was good, Missouri’s secondary was terrific last year finishing third in the Big 12 in yards allowed and 11th in the nation in pass efficiency defense. Two good starters have to be replaced, but there’s still plenty of excitement that the production will come thanks to a line that’ll spend most of every game sitting on the quarterback’s head. However it happened, it was the first time in years that the Tigers were able to hold up against the pass.

Junior Kip Edwards has to be the team’s No. 1 corner after years of being a decent reserve. The 6-1, 195-poudner has great size for the position and is a physical presence, but the spotlight will be on after making just one pick with six broke up passes. A good tackler, he made 36 stops and is great in the open field, but all that matters is how he’ll hang with the better receivers. Working into the corner rotation on one side with Edwards is 6-1, 195-pound junior Robert Steeples , a veteran who came up with five tackles as a reserve and a special teamer. He has good size, smarts, and excellent quickness, but he hasn’t been able to make any sort of an impact.

Stepping into the open corner spot on the other side is sophomore E.J. Gaines , a 5-10, 190-pounder who has too speed and excellent upside after making 26 tackles with a broken up pass as a key reserve. A playmaker, he showed as a true freshman that he’s ready to be a key starter for the next three years, but 5-11, 185-pound senior Trey Hobson is a longtime backup who knows what he’s doing. He hasn’t been more than a reserve, making six tackles last season working mostly on special teams, but he has 36 games of experience.

Returning to be the sheriff of the secondary is veteran strong safety Kenji Jackson , a 5-10, 200-pound senior who finished fourth on the team with 66 tackles with two picks and three broken up passes with 3.5 tackles for loss. A producer since he set foot on campus, he made 103 tackles in his first two seasons before a strong junior campaign, and he has been even better in the classroom earning all-star honors. He’s a smart, versatile player who’s always in the right spot. He’ll be backed up by former JUCO transfer Kenronte Walker , a 6-0, 205-pounder who was a great recruit for the program a few years ago, but spent last year on the scout team as a redshirt. A big hitter, he should be a good factor against the run when he gets his chances.

Taking over at free safety is rising star sophomore Tavon Bolden , a top-shelf athlete with 6-2, 205-pound size and fantastic speed and range. He got his feet wet last year making 14 tackles, but he didn’t do anything when the ball was in the air and will have to prove early on that he can be a playmaker. 6-0, 185-pound sophomore Matt White will battle for the job after making 18 tackles as a steady producer over the second half of the season.

Watch Out For … Bolden. He has the size and the tools to become a star in the secondary over the next three years. The secondary could use one major-league playmaker, and the sophomore has the potential to be it.
Strength: The pass rush. The Tigers will be helped by one of the nation’s best pass rushes that will beat up quarterbacks on a regular basis and will allow the secondary to only need a few seconds to work. There will be chances for picks, and the Tigers have to take advantage of them.
Weakness: Sure-thing producers. Jackson is a strong veteran and Edwards is more than fine, but the secondary needs to hope for a few sophomores and several untested players to shine.
Outlook: There might not be enough veterans to count on right away, and there’s a chance things could slip to pre-2010 form when the secondary was picked clean, but there’s enough athleticism and enough options to hope for a good rotation to keep everyone fresh. The coaching staff still has to find the right combination, but there should be an excellent foursome by the time the season starts.
Unit Rating: 6.5

Special Teams

State of the Unit: The Tigers have one of the nation’s best weapons is senior Grant Ressel , who nailed 26-of-27 field goals in 2009 and connected on 17-of-19 shots missing a 37-yarder in the opener against Illinois and a 54-yarder against Nebraska. That was it. The former walk-on has a good leg, but he tops out at around 50 yards. Whatever. He’s an All-America candidate who’ll be in the hunt for the Lou Groza Award.

The Mizzou punting game was among the best in America averaging 42.6 yards per shot with Matt Grabner putting 29 inside the 20 and forcing 14 fair catches, but he also put eight in the end zone for touchbacks. Junior Trey Barrow , who’ll also serve as the backup placekicker, got two attempts and put them both inside the 20. He’s ready to keep the production rolling while also serving as the team’s kickoff specialist again.

The punt return game could use more pop after Carl Gettis averaged just 6.1 yards per try. The kickoff return game needs more help, too, after RB Marcus Murphy averaged just 19.8 yards per try. He’ll get the first look at all the return duties, but the Tigers have their share of speedsters able to give it a shot.

Watch Out For … Barrow. The Tiger punt coverage teams are almost always great, but the team also knows how to come up with production from the punters. Barrow has just enough of a leg to blast away whenever needed.
Strength: Ressel. It’s not like the high-octane Mizzou offense needs more help, but it’s an automatic three points whenever he’s inside the 20. He’s one of the best in America.
Weakness: Kickoff coverage. The punt return game could use some more help, but the kickoff coverage needs the most work after giving up 21.9 yards per try. While that’s not all that bad, it has been one of the team’s problems over the last few seasons.
Outlook: The Missouri special teams are among the best in the nation on a yearly basis, and this season won’t be the exception with excellent kickers, enough speed to hope for more from the return game, and good enough coverage teams to get by. The Tigers will almost always have a big advantage here.
Unit Rating: 8

- 2011 Missouri Preview | 2011 Missouri Offense
- 2011 Missouri Defense | 2011 Missouri Depth Chart
- Missouri Previews  2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006