Preview 2007 - Defense
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What you need to know:
The whole will be greater than the
sum of the parts. A pass rush will emerge eventually from the
outside linebackers as well as end Stryker Sulak, while Brock
Christopher has the makings of an All-Big 12 performer at middle
linebacker. The secondary will be fine thanks to the return of
starting corners Darnell Terrell and Hardy Ricks, but replacing
safeties David Overstreet and Brandon Massey won't be easy.
There's tremendous speed and athleticism in the back seven,
several good young players to get excited about among the
backups, and an excellent tackle pair in Evander Hood and
Lorenzo Williams to anchor things up front. Now the D has to
prove it can come through on a consistent basis against the top
Brock Christopher, 87
Lorenzo Williams, 6
Interceptions: William Moore & Donnell Terrell, 1
Star of the defense: Senior DT Lorenzo Williams
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior DE
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Sean Weatherspoon
Best pro prospect: Williams
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Williams, 2) LB Brock
Christopher, 3) DT Evander Hood
Strength of the defense: Tackles, speed and athleticism
Weakness of the defense:
Developed depth, sure-thing pass rushing end
The tackles are set with the return
of 295-pound junior Evander Hood and 295-pound senior Lorenzo
Williams. After starting out his career at linebacker, the
ultra-quick Williams turned into a top playmaking tackle with 53
tackles, six sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss. While he's not the
strongest rock against the run, he's way too athletic for most centers
and has a great first move.
Hood looks the part of a top lineman, and he
appears on the verge of breaking out after making 36 tackles and four
sacks despite missing a few games with a broken foot. "Ziggy" is a
pumped up end who got much bigger and stronger over the last few seasons
and now should be ready for All-Big 12 honors.
While the tackles are fine, the ends are a big of a concern needing
former JUCO transfer Tommy Chavis to grow into a top pass rusher.
At 6-2 and 280 pounds, he's a big presence who can play tackle if
needed, but he's more of an end despite not doing much to get into the
backfield last year. He made 16 tackles and did a decent job, especially
at the end of last year, playing behind Xzavie Jackson.
Stryker Sulak is a rangy 6-5 and 240 pound athlete who cranked out
51 tackles and two sacks playing in a rotation. While he didn't emerge
as a top pass rusher he was expected to after a strong freshman season,
he did a good enough job to potentially become a difference maker.
Projected Top Reserves: If the line is looking for
pass rushing help, it might have found it in JUCO transfer Jaysen
Corbett, who was one of the rising stars of spring ball. He's 6-4,
260-pounds, and fast off the line. He'll play behind Chavis, but he'll
see more than his share of time.
Inside, senior Charles Gaines
appears set to make an impact behind Hood after sitting out all of last
year. The JUCO transfer has to come back from minor knee surgery, but
he's a big presence with decent athleticism.
Behind Williams will be
295-pound sophomore Jaron Baston, who has bulked up over the
off-season after making 14 tackles and two tackles for loss. He was a
top prospect who'll be expected to shine as a full-time starter in 2008.
Watch Out For ... an inconsistent pass rush. The
interior of the line will do a better job of getting into the backfield
throughout the season than the ends, but there will be times when Sulak
and Corbett look like world-beaters. It just might not be in every game.
Strength: The tackles. Hood and Williams aren't
going to get a whole bunch of national acclaim, but they'll be as
productive as any tackle pair in the Big 12. These two have good size
and are extremely active.
Weakness: Proven ends. Sulak is as close to a
sure-thing as the Tigers have, but there's a big downgrade going from
Xzavie Jackson and Brian Smith to the current Tigers ends.
Outlook: It'll be a productive line that won't be
a weakness, but it'll have to prove it can hold up against power running
teams (like it wasn't able to in the loss to Texas A&M) and will have to
get in the backfield with some regularity. The overall production went
down once Smith got hurt last year, and now the new front four will have
to show it can shine on its own.
Replacing Marcus Bacon and Dedrick Harrington, last year's top two
tacklers, won't be easy, but the Tigers appears to be set on the outside
with the emergence of sophomore Sean Weatherspoon on the weakside
and junior Van Alexander on the strong. Weatherspoon, who made 17
tackles in a reserve role, has good size for the weakside at 230 pounds,
and he showed this spring that he intends to be one of the team's top
defenders. A guided missile, he hits everything in sight with a major
Alexander was a star recruit a few years ago, but has hasn't broken
out yet hampered by a groin injury all of last year. When he's right, he
has the range and the toughness to grow into a new leader of the linebacking corps.
In the middle will be junior Brock Christopher,
who was fourth on the team with 87 tackles playing out of position on
the strongside. He has good quickness and a nice burst into the
backfield, but he's more suited to the inside where he should be a
premier run stuffer.
Projected Top Reserves: Sooner than later, true
freshman Michael Keck will play a huge role. One of the team's
top recruits, he looked the part in spring ball making plays all over
the play on the weakside. While he's only 215 pounds, has has room on
his 6-5 frame to get bigger. He's a tremendous pass rusher who'll make
an easy transition from defensive end.
Another 215-pound true freshman
Luke Lambert, earned the backup job in the middle this spring. A
phenomenal athlete with great speed, he can play on the outside if
needed, but he's tough enough to handle himself on the inside.
junior Steve Redmond is the one veteran backup who'll be assured
of playing time. He only made six tackles, but the former safety is fast
enough to do far more on the strongside behind Alexander.
Watch Out For ... the true freshmen. They might be
undersized and not quite ready for full-time roles, but Keck and Lambert
appear to be as good as advertised.
Strength: Speed and quickness. This is a very
active, very quick linebacking corps that will get into the backfield
and should help out the line with the pass rush. Pressure can come from
all three spots.
Weakness: Proven backups. Yeah, the freshman are
good and yeah, they'll make a lot of plays over the course of their
careers, but they're true freshman. They might shine against the weaker
teams on the slate, but it'll be asking a lot for them to shine against
the big boys of the Big 12 on a weekly basis.
Outlook: Mizzou might replace the 212 tackles made
by Bacon and Harrington, but it'll likely take more than two players to
do it. The linebacking corps will be a major strength in 2008 when
everyone returns, and it won't be all that bad this season as long as
the backups are given time to figure out what they're doing. Christopher
should be a machine in the middle, while Weatherspoon will be one of the
new stars of the Big 12 North.
Projected Starters: Both starting corners return led by
honorable mention All-Big 12 performer Darnell Terrell, who made
70 tackles and broke up a team-leading nine tackles. With 6-3, 205-pound
size, excellent speed, and great tackling ability, he can do it all, but
now the senior has to prove he can be a lock-down, shutdown corner who
can regularly erase the opposing team's number one.
Ricks is back after stepping in and making 40 tackles. He's a
tremendous open-field tackler who isn't afraid to get his nose dirty,
but he has to prove he can do more when the ball is in the air. He'll
get picked on early and often on the other side of Terrell.
The safeties are a bit of a question mark after losing Brandon Massey
and David Overstreet, but senior Cornelius Brown and junior
William Moore appear ready to put up some big numbers. The 215-pound
Moore is lightning fast playmaker who can jump out of the stadium and
cover like a corner. A strong safety last year, making 51 tackles with
an interceptions with eight broken up passes, he'll move to free safety
this year to better utilize his athleticism.
"Pig" Brown came in from
the JUCO ranks and had a fine season as a reserve making 40 tackles. He
can hit, but he has to prove he can be a consistent pass defender.
Projected Top Reserves: Brown and Moore can't get
too comfortable and have to keep pressing with former Tennessee
Volunteer Justin Garrett looking like a potential all-star. He's
6-2 and 200 pounds with unlimited range and big-time hitting ability.
After going the JUCO route, he came to Columbia this spring and made
plays all over the place. While he'll start out behind Brown at strong
safety, he can play either position.
Behind Terrell and pushing Ricks
will be 6-2, 200-pound junior Castine Bridges, who sat out last
year after transferring from Diablo Valley JC. He's a dangerous player
with the ball in his hands with the speed to handle himself well against
anyone in the Big 12.
Watch Out For ... Garrett to be starting sooner than
later. Originally pushing for the fifth defensive back role in nickel
situations, he showed this spring that he might be ready to take over a
starting safety spot.
Strength: Athleticism. All secondaries have speed
and athleticism, but Missouri is loaded with big, fast defensive backs
who have all the measurables. However ...
Weakness: Can they put it all together? Yes, the
overall numbers were fine last season, but the secondary melted down
against Nebraska and Oregon State. They have to prove they can slow down
a great passing attack.
Outlook: The emergence of Bridges and Garrett
could make this a strong group. The secondary can run with good corner
options and promising safeties, and there's enough size and strength to
hold up against the run. While this isn't a group that'll stop any good
passing game cold, it'll simply outathletic most mediocre air attacks
and put up good overall numbers.
The Tigers are set at kicker with
the return of sophomore Jeff Wolfert, who connected on 18 of 20
field goals going 4-of-5 from beyond 40 yards. A semifinalist for the
Lou Groza Award, the former walk-on, who came to Missouri as a diver,
was one of the surprises of the Big 12 season and should be a weapon
The punting situation isn't so clear with 6-3, 225-pound
senior Adam Crossett coming off a rough year averaging 39.4 yards
per kick as the Tigers finished last in the league, and 104th in the
nation, in net punting. He's tremendous at putting the ball inside the
20 placing 31 kicks over the last two years, but he has to be far more
consistent. He has a big enough leg to be major strength, but he'll have
to battle with incoming JUCO transfer Jake Henry this fall.
Watch Out For ... the return game to be a work in
progress for a while. Earl Goldsmith struggled as the main kickoff
returner, while Tommy Saunders and Marcus Woods didn't do enough on punt
Strength: Big legs. Crossett might struggle at
times, but he can air it out. Wolfert has range from 50 yards.
Weakness: Coverage teams. The Tigers gave up 21.1
yards per kickoff and 11.1 yards per punt return. It's not an
overstatement to say improvement here could be the difference in at
least one game.
Outlook: The return game should be better in time
with so many different options to try out. If Wolfert can do what he did
last year, the coaching staff would take it in a heartbeat. Crossett has
been around long enough to be better, and at the very least, he'll pin
teams deep from time to time. If the return game and coverage units can
improve just a little bit, one of Mizzou's biggest concerns will turn
into a positive.