2012 Missouri Preview - Defense
Missouri LB Andrew Wilson
CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Missouri Tiger Defense
Preview 2012 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: Life is going to be a bit easier for the Missouri defense going into the SEC. It’s a different style and different mindset, and while that’s bad news for the Tiger attack, the D that’s used to getting into wild Big 12 shootouts will have to adjust. The starting 11 should be terrific with corner E.J. Gaines leading an athletic secondary and the return of Will Ebner solidifying an already strong linebacking corps. The line will generate pressure into the backfield from all four spots, but end Brad Madison and tackler Sheldon Richardson have to be 100% after suffering shoulder injuries.
Star of the defense: Junior CB E.J. Gaines
Tackles: Andrew Wilson, 98
Sacks: Brad Madison, 4.5
Interceptions: E.J. Gaines, Zaviar Gooden, 2
Player who has to step up and be a star: Sophomore NG Lucas Vincent
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DE Kony Ealy
Best pro prospect: Senior LB Zaviar Gooden
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Gaines, 2) LB Andrew Wilson, 3) Gooden
Strength of the defense: Linebacker, Run Defense
Weakness of the defense: Pass Defense Numbers, Proven Backup Linebackers
The defensive line needs senior Brad Madison to return healthy from a shoulder injury that kept him out of spring ball and limited him at times throughout last year. He played in every game and made 25 tackles with 4.5 sacks, 8.5 tackles for loss, and an interception, and when 100% healthy he can be among the SEC’s best pass rushers. At 6-4 and 260 pounds he beefed up a bit to fill out his frame, and once he’s ready to go he’ll be the star of the line.
Also looking to come back healthy from a shoulder problem is Sheldon Richardson, the superstar JUCO transfer who tried finally qualified academically and made his presence felt in his first season. The 6-4, 295-pound senior could’ve gone anywhere with his NFL upside and anchor ability, and while he only started in two games, he didn’t disappoint with 37 tackles to go along with two sacks and eight tackles for loss. Along with being freakishly strong against the run, he’ll be one of the SEC’s top interior pass rushers.
One of the team’s most important fights will be on the nose, where Lucas Vincent and George White will battle to replace Dominique Hamilton, the anchor who dominated last year with 56 tackles and three sacks. The 6-2, 295-pound Vincent got his feet wet as a freshman with 11 tackles and two tackles for loss. While he’s not a huge nose, he’s tremendously strong and can hold his own in the interior. White, a 6-3, 290-pound senior, will try to close out his career with a bang. Athletic, the former linebacker can move, but he hasn’t made an impact yet.
Kony Ealy got a start against Baylor on the end and finished with 13 tackles and a sack on the year. The 6-5, 260-pound promising sophomore is fast off the ball and showed the promise to potentially be the team’s next great playmaker. A good recruit, he has all the tools to be special working on the other side of Madison. 6-3, 260-pound junior Michael Sam stepped in this spring with Madison out. Extremely promising, he came up with 24 tackles and 3.5 sacks as a freshman after making 29 tackles with a 1.5 sacks last year. Quick off the ball and extremely athletic, he’s quick enough to be even more of a disruptive force.
With Richardson out, senior Jimmy Burge was the main man at tackle this offseason and has proven to be good enough through the years to handle himself well in the rotation. At 6-2 and 285 pounds he has good size and enough experience to be exactly what the defense needs. He only made three tackles last year, but he’s a good veteran. He’ll combine with 6-4, 290-pound sophomore Matt Hoch in the backup rotation. Hoch didn’t do anything last year, but he’s a good athlete who hit the weights hard and will be one of the team’s bigger interior presences.
Watch Out For … Ealy. It was Aldon Smith, then Jacquies Smith, and Madison will be the main man when he’s back. Ealy might not be the team’s top pass rushing terror this year, but he’ll be turned loose and should be in for a huge year.
Strength: Pass rush. The Tigers might have only come up with 27 sacks, but the steady stream into the backfield was terrific and disruptive. The line can get into the backfield from all four spots.
Weakness: Shoulders. Can Madison and Richardson get to 100%? Injuries are a problem in several places for the Tigers, but the line is the biggest area of concern if the two stars aren’t healthy. Madison and Richardson are supposed to be fine, but they need to be as good as new.
Outlook: Mizzou has become a factory for defensive linemen, but losing Smith and Hamilton will still hurt. There’s more than enough talent to send wave after wave of players in the rotation to hold up against the run and get to the quarterback. It’s a terrific line full of size, speed, and athleticism, but everyone has to be healthy to hold up.
Unit Rating: 8
All three starting linebackers return with a little bit of playing around with the roles. Junior Andrew Wilson led the team last season with 98 tackles with 9.5 tackles for loss playing mostly in the middle, but he’ll get a long look on the strongside this season. At 6-3 and 235 pounds he has excellent size and huge hitting ability, coming up with 12 tackles against Texas A&M and 13 against Kansas State. He’s tough enough to handle himself inside or out, and he should be one of the SEC’s leading tacklers.
6-0, 230-pound senior Will Ebner started out last year in the middle but was knocked out for the year with an ankle injury after making just three tackles. He’s one of the team’s biggest hitters and is a strong, intimidating force, but he’s always banged up fighting through a knee injury earlier in his career and a foot injury a few seasons ago. Very smart and very good when he’s able to stay on the field, he’s an all-star talent for the middle of the defense with great range and tremendous leadership.
Senior Zaviar Gooden won’t move around. The 6-2, 230-pound veteran is very smart, very fast, and very productive with 80 tackles last season to go along with a sack and six tackles for loss. Bulked up, he has matured into his frame and now should be poised for a huge season with the athleticism to be even more of a pass rusher and with excellent open field tackling ability. An elite athlete who reportedly has a 4.3 40 on the résumé, he has the raw skills to soon blow up the NFL combine.
Considering the injury problems of Ebner and the way Missouri used linebackers in the rotation, the backups are a key part of the defense. 6-1, 240-pound sophomore Darvin Ruise hit the weights over the last year to add size to his speed game. He’s a weakside defender who moves well in the open field and can become a good pass rusher in time. He made two tackles in limited action, while 6-1, 240-pound junior Donovan Bonner came up with 13 stops and two forced fumbles as a key reserve. He’ll back up Ebner in the middle, while 6-2, 225-pound sophomore Michael Brennan will mostly see time on the strongside.
Watch Out For … Ebner. It’s not a lock that he can get through a season healthy, but he had a year to heal up and he should be one of the SEC’s best tacklers. If he’s right, the Tiger linebacking corps will be a major strength.
Strength: Tacklers. The Missouri linebackers don’t let much slip. The defensive backs make plays, but it’s a major positive that the three leading tacklers last season were linebackers.
Weakness: Pass rush. It wasn’t really the job of the linebackers to get into the backfield on a regular basis, but it would be nice if they did. The line mostly does the heavy lifting when it comes to rushing the passer, and the top three linebackers combined for 26 tackles for loss, but they have the ability to do more.
Outlook: The Tiger linebackers came up with a great year even with Ebner on the sidelines. Luke Lambert might be gone, but the return of Ebner provides a nice boost to the corps that should be terrific if Gooden and Wilson play up to their abilities. The defenders are great against the run, they’re fast, and they’re active. They’ll fit in perfectly in the SEC, and they should dominate if the line does its job.
Unit Rating: 8
The Tiger secondary has excellent experience and good athletes across the board, but a new strong safety has to step up in place of Kenji Jackson, who finished fourth on the team with 76 tackles and came up with a strong year. 6-0, 210-pound senior Kenronte Walker was a spot starter last season, working mostly late in the year at free safety, finishing with 44 tackles with a sack. The former JUCO transfer has size and a ton of talent; he was a great get for the program a few years ago. A big hitter, he’s good against the run and should be just fine in place of Jackson.
Sophomore Braylon Webb had a terrific first year as a spot starter and jack-of-all-trades, starting four times at free safety and seeing time in other roles. At 6-0 and 210 pounds he has nice size and he’s a good hitter making 36 stops, but now he has to show he can shine when the ball is in the air. One of the best athletes in the secondary, he can run with anyone.
Senior Kip Edwards went from being a decent reserve to the good starting corner with 6-1, 200-pound size and good range. He missed a few games banged up, but he made 55 tackles with a pick and three broken up passes. He might not have been a top playmaker, and he might have had problems at times on deep balls, but he was a good, sound defender who can be trusted on one side.
While Edwards was supposed to grow into the team’s No. 1 corner, junior E.J. Gaines actually did it. He has decent 5-10, 190-pound size and tremendous speed and ball-hawking ability, making two picks and a whopping 16 broken up passes to go along with 69 tackles. Excellent in the open field, he proved he could handle himself on top opposing targets and did enough to earn First Team All-Big 12 honors. Athletic, tough, and instinctive, he always seems to find ways to get around the ball.
Junior Matt White has been a nice reserve and part-time starter over the last few years, following up an 18-tackle first season with 47 stops with four broken up passes as a free safety. However, he didn’t do nearly enough against the pass and now will be mostly a key reserve and nickel and dime defender. 6-4, 195-pound sophomore Daniel Easterly is tall and rangy, but he’s a good hitter and should play a bigger role at strong safety after making nine tackles as a backup.
5-10, 195-pound junior Randy Ponder started three times last year and play mostly in nickel and dime defender after making 37 tackles and coming up with a key pick against Texas A&M. He’s a smooth, quick coverman, while 6-1, 195-pound senior Robert Steeples started against Arizona State and finished the season with 21 tackles with a pick. He has good size and nice range.
Watch Out For … Gaines on a national scale. He’s good enough to come up with big plays and be a shut-down playmaker, but he doesn’t quite have enough of a reputation to be avoided. He’s growing into one of the nation’s top corners.
Strength: The SEC. Merry Christmas, Missouri. The Big 12 bombed away at will, meaning giving up 253 passing yards per game wasn’t too bad. The SEC has a few good passing teams, but compared to dealing with Robert Griffin, Landry Jones, and Brandon Weeden last year, dealing with SEC offenses will be a picnic.
Weakness: Consistency. Again, it’s not really fair or right to judge a secondary based on what it does in the Big 12, but the Tiger secondary was a bit too hit or miss and allowed a few too many big plays. This year, the secondary has to shine at the right times against the best passing games; it’ll have to step up its play when needed.
Outlook: The secondary had concerns last year with experience and proven production. That won’t be an issue this time around with terrific prospects at all four spots, depth, and talent. Gaines is a terrific corner, and Walker and Webb will be as athletic as any safety tandem in the SEC. If the pass rush does its job up front, the stats will be far better than last season.
Unit Rating: 8
It was one of the most stunning disappointments of last year. Grant Ressel came into the season as one of the nation’s top kickers, but he struggled hitting just 9-of-16 and wasn’t clutch. However, Ressel’s problems gave Trey Barrow a chance, and he came through connecting 7-of-9 attempts. However, he didn’t show off any range with his longest field goal coming from just 39 yards out. Also the team’s punter, he has a good leg and he’ll get more chances from deep this year. The senior averaged 44.8 yards per kick and put ten inside the 20, but he had a ton of problems with his placement putting 18 in the end zone.
The return game was decent last year with receiver T.J. Moe averaging 23.3 yards per kickoff, but he didn’t break loose on punt return averaging just 5.2 yards per try. Corner E.J. Gaines was better averaging 10.9 yards per punt return with a score.
Watch Out For … Barrow as a placekicker. He’s already a solid, established punter, and while he might not be an all-star on field goals, he should be dependable inside the 50. He’ll nail a deep one or three.
Strength: The coverage teams. Kickoff coverage was an Achilles heel in 2010, and then it became a positive last year allowing just 17.9 yards per try. It’ll be even better this year with the new rules; Barrow will put most of his kickoffs into the end zone.
Weakness: Deep ball field goals. With Ressel losing his mojo from being 40 and Barrow only getting one chance outside of the 39, the Tigers didn’t get much on deep field goal attempts hitting just 1-of-8 chances. If Barrow can’t do it, all eyes will be on redshirt freshman Andrew Baggett, next year’s starting kicker, to see if he’s ready.
Outlook: Always strong, the Missouri special teams were average last season by their always high standards. It’ll be up to Barrow and Baggett to try to restore the glory to the kicking game, while Moe will get the first look again as the main returner. Even if the Tigers aren’t phenomenal here, they’ll still be strong.
Unit Rating: 7
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