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2007 Missouri Preview - Defense

CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted May 14, 2007


Preview 2007 Missouri Tiger Defense Preview

Missouri Tigers

Preview 2007 - Defense

- 2007 Missouri Preview | 2007 Missouri Offense Preview  
- 2007 Missouri Depth Chart | 2006 CFN Missouri Preview


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 teams.  

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Brock Christopher, 87
Sacks: 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 Tommy Chavis
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

Defensive Line

Projected Starters
:
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.

Junior 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.
Rating: 7

Linebackers

Projected Starters
:
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 pop.

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.

235-pound 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.
Rating: 7


Defensive Backs


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.

Sophomore Hardy 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.
Rating: 7.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters
:
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 once again.

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 returns.
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.
Rating: 7

 

Related Stories
2007 Missouri Preview - Offense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  May 14, 2007
2007 Missouri Preview
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  May 14, 2007
2007 Missouri Preview - Depth Chart
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  May 14, 2007








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