2013 Missouri Preview - Defense
CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - Missouri Tiger Defense
Preview 2013 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: Speed and athleticism aren't going to be a problem with quickness all across the board, but can the Tigers hold up against the power teams? The problem last year was a line that failed to get to the quarterback enough and didn't hold up against the powerful ground attacks. A massive disappointment, the secondary got ripped apart late in the year allowing over 1,200 yards with nine scores in the final three games, but corner E.J. Gaines leads a fast group that should be in for a better season if the line can start generating a pass rush. Sheldon Richardson is gone from the interior, but the ends should be terrific and the linebackers can fly. Getting around the ball will never be a problem, but it's time to get more physical.
Star of the defense: Senior CB E.J. Gaines
Tackles: Andrew Wilson, 79
Sacks: Michel Sam, 4.5
Interceptions: Several with 1
Player who has to step up and be a star: Senior S Matt White
Unsung star on the rise: Redshirt freshman DT Harold Brantley
Best pro prospect: Junior DE Kony Ealy
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Gaines, 2) Ealy, 3) LB Andrew Wilson
Strength of the defense: Athleticism, Size
Weakness of the defense: Proven Pass Rush, Toughness
Gone is Sheldon Richardson, one of the SEC's most talented tackles and a first-round NFL draft pick. Replacing him starts with junior Matt Hoch, a very smart, very tough versatile defensive lineman who'll try to step in for Richardson or could end up on the nose. At 6-5 and 295 pounds he's a decent-sized defender with a great frame, and he has the athleticism to grow into an interior pass rusher after coming to the Tigers as a tight end. On the nose last year, he's not really built to hold up against the power running teams, but he had a decent year making 36 tackles with two sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss.
Hoch will start at one spot, and 6-2, 295-pound junior Lucas Vincent will likely get the call at the other, possible on the nose. Tremendously strong, he has the strength to become a factor, but he only made three tackles last year as a reserve. He'll be pushed hard by 6-3, 300-pound redshirt freshman Harold Brantley, a terrific prospect on the inside who could see time at either tackle spot. Extremely athletic, he should be a load after bulking up to get to his current weight while keeping his first step. He might not be another Richardson, but he's going to be a good one with a little bit of time logged in.
The Tigers have a terrific athlete on the outside in junior Kony Ealy, a 6-5, 275-pound talent with a tremendous burst off the ball and a big-time attitude making 37 tackles with 3.5 sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss. Quickly growing into a dangerous pro prospect, he's a Combine guy with all the prototype tools and skills, and now this could be his breakout campaign and a statistical star. On the other side is 6-3, 255-pound senior Michael Sam, a very quick, very good pass rushing prospect who hasn't progressed or blossomed as expected. He came up with a great freshman season and kept rolling as a sophomore, but the 22 tackles, 4.5 sacks and seven tackles for loss wasn't quite the all-around performance expected. However, it's all there to be more of a disruptive force.
Watch Out For … Josh Augusta. The Tigers loaded up on excellent end prospects with Antar Thompson, A.J. Logan and Marcus Loud all certain to be a part of the equation over the next several years, but the 6-4, 300-pound Augusta is the star. The Peoria, Illinois native isn't just big, he's strong enough to play in the SEC right now with the athleticism to be an interior pass rusher. Everyone wanted him from Notre Dame to Michigan to Oklahoma, and Missouri landed its future anchor.
Strength: Getting behind the line. The pass rush wasn't as good as it needed to be, but the line did a nice job overall against the run and was quick enough to make several big plays in the backfield.
Weakness: Sheldon Richardson. Being physical was a big, big problem against the SEC powerhouses, but overall the line held up relatively well thanks to Richardson, who set the tone by finishing tied for second on the team with 75 tackles with four sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss. The big concern was his hot-and-cold motor, but in a salary drive he stepped up his game. He'll be missed.
Outlook: The Tigers have athletes and talents at all four spots, but do they have the killers on the inside to hold up against the power running teams? Everyone will get behind the line, and Ealy and Sam are burgeoning pass rushing stars, but this group will be judged by what it does in the bigger games against the better teams.
Unit Rating: 7.5
The linebacking corps needs some reworking, but it gets back its main man, leading tackler Andrew Wilson, a 6-3, 235-pound senior who led the team with 98 tackles two years ago and followed it up with a team-leading 79 stops with 2.5 tackles for loss and four force fumbles. A huge hitter with decent range, he can play either outside spot, but he'll work in the middle where he'll be the anchor for the front seven. A great tackler who's always around the ball, he's great at making the key stop and holds up well against the power teams.
The weakside should be the most interesting spot with a good combination fighting it out for time. 6-1, 245-pound Darvin Ruise came to the program as a pure speed defender but hit the weights hard to get up to his current weight. A terrific athlete, he can get all over the field, but now he has to start producing after coming up with seven tackles. 6-1, 235-pound sophomore Kentrell Brothers is the rising star of the defense with the right size and quickness for the position. He got in a little work last season making stops with a broken up pass, and now he'll be more of a pass rusher when he gets the chance.
6-1, 240-pound senior Donovan Bonner has been a career spot starter, getting the call a few times last year, finishing with 39 tackles with a pick and four forced fumbles. With a big pop, he's an intimidating force who always brings the blast and should grow statistically with a bigger role on the strongside. He'll be backed up by sophomore Clarence Green, a 6-0, 225-pound flash with the upside to be a dangerous pass rusher. He didn't do much in his first season, but he's a big tackler with track star speed and athleticism.
Watch Out For … Eric Beisel, a true middle linebacker prospect with 6-2, 240-pound size and big tackling skills. He doesn't miss a stop and is built to have everything funneled his way.
Strength: Size. There's no questioning the quickness and athleticism across the board, and there's great size, too, with 240 pounders at all three spots and good size among the backups. SEC linebackers tend to be beefed up safeties at times who can fly, and this group is like that but can also bring the bulk.
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. There's too much talent and quickness to not start hitting the quarterback.
Outlook: It's going to take some work and it's going to be a sore spot from time to time against the better SEC offenses, but Ruise, Brothers and Bonner appear to be ready to become major factors around Wilson, who doesn't get a whole bunch of credit in the loaded league, but is one of the SEC's better wrap tacklers. This is a fast and active group that needs to be more physical.
Unit Rating: 7
The secondary struggled way too much last season, but it gets back a few nice veterans starting with E.J. Gaines, an NFL talent who came up with a huge sophomore season in the Big 12 making 69 tackles with 16 broken up passes, and he showed he could play in the new league, too, making 74 tackles with a pick and 11 broken up passes. The 5-10, 195-pound senior is excellent in the open field and great against opposing No. 1 targets, but he takes a lot of chances and misfires a bit here and there. Against the run, there are few better tackling corners in the SEC.
On the other side is a very smart, very promising senior in Randy Ponder, a 5-10, 190-pounder who came up with a nice year in the rotation making 45 tackles with a pick and two broken up passes. Able to play just about anywhere in the secondary, he can hit in the open field and has nice coverage skills. He'll get a long look at corner, but 5-11, 190-pound sophomore David Johnson is too fast to keep off the field. Possibly the team's fastest players, he's a high school national champion hurdler who'll never have a problem staying with any receiver in the SEC. He needs time on the field to show what he can do.
Junior Braylon Webb emerged as a good free safety making 64 tackles after coming up with 36 tackles as a jack-of-all-trades defensive back in his first year. The problem has been his lack of ball skills, not doing nearly enough against the pass with no picks and no broken up passes. He's a great open field hitter and he has the 6-0, 205-pound size and decent range, but his athleticism has to translate into pass defense. If Webb isn't making plays against the pass, 6-1, 210-pound sophomore Cortland Browning might see more time. He only got in three games of work making one tackle, but he's a speedster who's expected be a dangerous factor against the better passing teams.
Senior Matt White has spent his career as a spot starter, and now he has to make the strong safety job his. The 6-0, 195-pound veteran came up with 23 tackles with two broken up passes, and he has to become more of a playmaker. Able to play anywhere in the secondary, he has the skills along with the experience, but he'll have to become a statistical star for the defense to shine. Sophomore Ian Simon is the heir apparent to the position in 2014, but he'll get his chances to show what he can do this season after making 14 tackles in his limited time. Great at the end of the year, he started to come on and become a factor, and now he'll likely be used as mostly a nickel and dime defender. While he's not huge for a strong safety at 5-11 and 195 pounds, he can hit.
Watch Out For … Anthony Sherrils, a good corner prospect who came up with a great year running the ball for his Kansas City high school. At 5-11 and 180 pounds with excellent quickness, he fits what Missouri likes to do with its defensive backs and has the speed to grow into a No. 1 cover-corner.
Strength: Wheels. The Tiger secondary is like a track team with interchangeable parts. The Tiger defensive backs all have the same build and the same athleticism, and they can all move. The coaching staff can play around with the options and tweak lineup to find the right combination.
Weakness: Defending the pass. Life was supposed to be much easier coming out of the Big 12 – oops. After giving up 253 yards per game in the pass-happy Big 12, the Tigers allowed 241 per game last season and got worse as the season went on, allowing 432 yards to Tennessee, 385 yards to Syracuse and 410 yards to Texas A&M over the final three games.
Outlook: This needs to be the biggest area of improvement. The lack of a steady pass rush was a huge, huge problem, but the secondary didn't do its part with just seven picks and having issues holding up against the better passers on the schedule. There's speed and a load of talent, but after a few off years, the production has to come.
Unit Rating: 7
The kicking game got an okay season out of sophomore Andrew Baggett, but not a great one hitting 14-of-20 kicks with a block. He didn't get any deep chances, and he missed three kicks against Arizona State, but he improved as the year went on connecting on 11 of his last 13 field goals. He has a leg, and he's a great prospect, but he needs to hit everything under 40 yards.
Trey Barrow is gone after averaging 43 yards per punt and putting a whopping 30 kicks inside the 20. Junior Christian Brinser is great in the classroom, and he has a great leg, but he has to be consistent and prove he can get the ball deep like Barrow did. He has huge shoes to fill.
Running back Marcus Murphy came up with a fantastic season as a kick and punt returner averaging 13.9 yards per punt return with three scores and 24.1 yards and a touchdown on kickoff returns. However, two of the punt returns for touchdowns came in the opener against SE Louisiana – the other was a key moment in the win over UCF. He was the lone highlight against Alabama taking a kickoff to the house for the team's only touchdown.
Watch Out For … more from Baggett. There's a world of talent and a great leg, and eventually he'll be a weapon who comes up with a big blast now and then. With a year under his belt, he'll be steadier.
Strength: Murphy. One of the best weapons in the SEC, Murphy helped the Tigers lead the SEC in both kickoff and punt returns, and he'll once again be a gamechanger who needs to be avoided.
Weakness: Proven punting. Barrow was a bright spot who did a great job of putting offenses in bad positions. Brisner has the upside, but Barrow was a talent and won't be easily replaced.
Outlook: Missouri's special teams have consistently been great under Gary Pinkel. The kicking game will be fine, the coverage teams solid and Murphy will be special.
Unit Rating: 7
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