Preview 2008 - Defense
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What you need to know:
The defense took a backseat to the
offense last season, but it had a fantastic year and could be
even better if everyone is healthy. That's a huge if considering
star FS William Moore was out this spring with a shoulder
injury, as was top-tackling LB Sean Weatherspoon, while LB Van
Alexander suffered a torn ACL. The linebacking corps, overall,
needs depth to quickly develop after losing two top backup
prospects to go along with the injuries. Moore should be back at
100% to combine with Justin Garrett to form one of the Big 12's
best safety tandems. The corners aren't great, but they're
experienced. Stryker Sulak is a fantastic pass rusher, but there
isn't enough consistent plays in the backfield from the front
seven. Ziggy Hood is an all-star tackle for the run defense to
Stryker Sulak, 6
Interceptions: William Moore, 8
Star of the defense: Senior FS William Moore
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior CB
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Luke Lambert
Best pro prospect: Moore
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Moore, 2) LB Sean
Weatherspoon, 3) DE Stryker Sulak
Strength of the defense: Safeties, linebackers (if
Weakness of the defense:
Consistent pass rush, linebacker depth
Three starters return to the line
with the strength at the ends. 6-5, 250-pound senior Stryker Sulak
grew into the full-time starting role, after making 51 tackles as a
sophomore, to finish as an All-Big 12 pass rusher with 60 tackles, six
sacks and 11 tackles for loss. Last year was when he lived up to his
potential, and now he needs to take the next step and become
unstoppable. With a quick burst around the edge and good toughness
despite his rangy frame, he can do it all.
On the other side will once again be 6-2, 255-pound senior Tommy
Chavis, a decent former JUCO transfer who earned honorable mention
All-Big 12 honors after making 48 tackles with 4.5 sacks and seven
tackles for loss. He got in shape as the year went on and became quicker
and quicker. Now he should explode with a year of experience under his
belt and with Sulak on the other side to take away the focus and
Starting on the inside will once again be 6-4, 295-pound senior Ziggy
Hood, a pumped up 6-4, 295-pound end who has tremendous quickness
and pass rushing ability and good strength. He did a little of
everything for the interior making 49 tackles with five sacks, eight
tackles for loss and five broken up passes. He's the epitome of a
playmaking tackle; he turns the momentum around time and again. An
honorable mention All-Big 12 selection, Evander (his real name) should
be in for bigger honors this year.
The new starter to the front four has some big shoes to fill. 6-1,
300-pound junior Jaron Baston takes over for Lorenzo Williams,
who dominated inside and in the backfield. Baston was originally a big
end prospect before growing into a tackle, and he has a little bit of
experience making 13 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss. He bulked up
enough to become a regular on the nose, and now he should blossom in a
Projected Top Reserves: The future star on the
line is 6-3, 225-pound sophomore Tyler Crane, a flash of
lightning who made two tackles in a limited role as a true freshman. A
fantastic high school sprinter, he has the wheels to add even more pass
rushing ability to the mix in the rotation with Sulak.
Working behind Baston on the nose will be 6-4, 300-pound junior Andy
Maples after spending last year waiting for his turn. The superstar
JUCO transfer of two years ago is a ready-made interior presence who
might not get into the backfield like Baston will, but will be a rock
against the run.
Former JUCO transfer Jaysen
Corbett was supposed to make an immediate impact, but he
only ended up with seven tackles and a sack in his limited time.
He didn't have too much of a chance to get on the field with so
much talent in front of him, but he's a good pass rushing
prospect who should do more playing behind Chavis.
Watch Out For ... an inconsistent pass rush ...
again. The Tigers have pass rushers, just not consistent ones.
Sulak and Chavis can get to the quarterback, and Hood is
impressive on the inside, but they have to do it on a more
regular basis. Their production usually comes in waves.
Strength: Activity. The overall tackles for loss
stat isn't that great, but that doesn't begin to show how well
the Tiger front four made big plays. All four spots are tough to
defend because everyone can move. Quickness, agility, and
athleticism isn't an issue.
Weakness: Proven depth. There will be a rotation
of players just because that's the way the coaching staff might
want it, but the starting front four will have to produce and
stay healthy. The reserves need plenty of time before they're
ready for prime time.
Outlook: With a slew of problems in the
linebacking corps, the line will have to be even better than it
was last season when it was a rock against the run. Generating
more sacks would be nice, but this group provides plenty of
pressure. Sulak and Chavis will be all-star performers on the
outside, while Hood is a man at tackle.
Projected Starters: The linebacking corps should've been a major
strength, but now it's a question mark thanks to a variety of
issues. Most importantly, leading tackler Sean Weatherspoon
has to come back healthy after suffering a shoulder injury this
spring. The 6-1, 235-pound junior made 130 tackles, three sacks,
and 9.5 tackles for loss in a first team All-Big 12 season.
"Spoon" is a guided missile of a hitter with tremendous
athleticism and range. He's also extremely consistent. Now he
has to be 100%.
The middle is set with the return of senior Brock Christopher
after he finished third on the team with 106 tackles, 1.5
sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss. The honorable mention performer
is a smart, tough defender with 25 starts over the last two
seasons and 224 career tackles. He started to do more in pass
coverage last season after moving from the strongside to the
middle, and now he should be even more active in all areas.
The big question mark will be on the strongside where senior
Van Alexander is the starter if he's healthy. The bad news
is that he tore his ACL. The good news is that it happened early
enough that he'll have a shot at playing early this season. He's
probably not going to start on day one, but he's expected to be
back by October at the very latest. A superstar recruit, he
never became a top player mostly because of injuries highlighted
by a groin problem a few years ago, a broken hand last season,
and now the knee. Even so, he made 60 stops last season and is a
tough veteran. Now he has to get back on the field.
Projected Top Reserves: With Alexander out with
his knee injury and backup Marquis Booker booted off the team,
sophomore Luke Lambert will get every shot at the
strongside job. A middle linebacker by nature, the 6-3,
225-pound whirling dervish ended up making 32 tackles in his
true freshman season, closing out with ten stops against
Arkansas, as he played bigger and tougher than his size. A
fantastic special teamer, he'll be needed now to do even more
for the defense.
It'll be an open casting call for the backup spots with several
walk-ons and injured players needing to play big roles.
Sophomore Marlon Galbreath is a 6-2, 215-pound speedster
who needs to become a factor on the strongside, at least in part
of a rotation. Sophomore Andrew Gachkar is a promising
prospect in the middle after making 16 tackles, but he has a
blood clot issue and missed all of spring ball. Steve Redmond
is a senior who made nine tackles in a reserve role, and
he'll have to battle with Galbreath for a backup role on the
strongside once he returns from a shoulder injury. Sophomore
Jeff Gettys was the team's walk-on player of the year as a
top special teamer. The 6-3, 225-pounder will have a chance to
be a part of the backup mix in the middle.
Watch Out For ... Lambert. This might not be a Wally
Pip situation, but Lambert could flourish in the starting
strongside role, if that's where he ends up, if Alexander is out
for any length of time.
Strength: The starting three ... maybe. If/when
Weatherspoon is fine, he'll combine with Christopher and
Alexander or Lambert to form one of the Big 12's better trios.
This group will be terrific against the run.
Weakness: Proven backups. Connell Davis (quit) and
Marquis Booker (booted) were supposed to grow into terrific
backups with excellent athleticism and upside. They would've
played a big role after Weatherspoon and Alexander got hurt, but
they're gone now. If there are any more major injuries, the
coaching staff will have to look to the band for depth.
Outlook: This was when it was all supposed to come
together. Weatherspoon, Christopher and Alexander were supposed
to be overall of last year's growing pains and were ready to
form an All-Big 12 unit of killer run stuffers and all-around
playmakers. It still could happen, but Weatherspoon's shoulder
and Alexander's knee make things iffy. The depth goes from a
potential strength to a major question mark after the loss of
Booker and Davis. Even so, there will be a point this year when
everyone is right and the Tigers will have a dominant corps. It
could take a little while.
Projected Starters: While Chase Daniel and Jeremy Maclin get all
the publicity, a case could be made that senior free safety
William Moore is the team's best player. With the speed of a
corner and great hitting ability, Moore was good as a strong
safety with 51 tackles as a sophomore, and then he blew up into
an All-America caliber playmaker when he moved over to free
safety. With more room to roam, he finished second on the team
with 117 tackles, two sacks, and nine tackles for loss as he was
all over the place against the run, and he was a force against
the pass with eight interceptions and six broken up passes. With
his combination of speed and skills in a 6-1, 230-pound frame,
he'll be on the watch list of every NFL scout. First, he has to
get back healthy after missing off-season workouts recovering
from a shoulder problem.
Cornelius "Pig" Brown was having an All-America caliber season
at free safety before going down midway through the year with a
knee injury. While senior Justin Garrett wasn't Brown,
the former JUCO transfer, and Tennessee Volunteer, stepped in
and did a good job making 51 tackles with two interceptions as
he grabbed the starting job and didn't let it go. Brown's injury
now becomes a silver-lining positive as Garrett should be ready
to come up to a huge season. The 6-2, 200-pounder hits like a
ton of bricks and should grow into a star. He has unlimited
range, and now, he's a seasoned veteran.
The cornerbacks are set with the return of sophomore Carl
Gettis and senior Castine Bridges. The 5-11,
200-pound Gettis, as a true freshman, stepped in as the starter
late in the season after starting out as an excellent reserve
finishing with 49 tackles and an interception. While he's a
great open-field tackler and has a world of upside, he'll get
picked on until he starts making more plays on the ball.
Bridges also needed time to grow into a role after coming over
from the JUCO ranks, but at 6-2 and 210 pounds he showed off
excellent ability against the run making 50 tackles to go along
with an interception. While he's not a lock-down corner, he can
smother the smaller receivers and has just enough speed to hang
with the faster ones.
Projected Top Reserves: Working behind Moore at
free safety will be junior Hardy Ricks, a versatile 6-0,
190-pound speedster who started out last season at corner before
moving over to safety. While he has good wheels and nice hitting
ability, making 21 tackles and two tackles for loss on the year,
he's not great when the ball is in the air. He'll have to get
back healthy after suffering a shoulder injury.
With Moore recovering, 5-11, 200-pound junior Del Howard
got plenty of good reps in at free safety this off-season. A big
hitting backup who came up with 32 tackles, and with a few games
of starting experience, he can step in and produce whenever
needed. He's not nearly as good as Moore, but he's serviceable.
All eyes will be on sophomore Kevin Rutland as he tries
to use his tremendous speed to become a factor at corner. Part
safety, part corner, at 6-0 and 190 pounds, and with some of the
best wheels on the team, he's needed to provide the depth on the
outside. A good special teamer so far, he made four tackles last
Waiting in the wings for next year is junior Munir Prince,
a transfer from Notre Dame who'll have to sit out this season
but is all but assured of being the starting strong safety if he
doesn't get moved to corner. With his tremendous quickness and a
year to learn, the former running back will eventually be a key
Watch Out For ... Garrett to be almost as good as
Moore but without any of the fanfare. Moore might have the
next-level skills and measurables, but Garrett is a player;
he'll crank out an All-Big 12 season.
Strength: Safeties. Moore should be in the NFL
while Garrett will get a look from someone next year. Ricks and
Howard are more than just capable backups; they can step in and
start at any time.
Weakness: Interceptions from the corners. The
depth is also going to be a big problem early on. If Bridges
and/or Gettis get hurt, or if they stink, it'll be time to
worry. The two starters can hit, but they can't make plays on
the ball as Tier corners came up with a mere two interceptions
Outlook: When Moore is back healthy from his
shoulder problem, the Tigers will be rock-solid up the middle
and questionable outside. The corners are experienced, but
they're beatable. Fortunately, Moore and Garrett are good enough
to make up for most mistakes and are great at providing help.
The developed depth is good at safety and non-existent at
corner. Overall, the stats won't be as good as the secondary.
Mizzou will get up so quickly against several teams that
opposing offense will have to bomb away.
Projected Starters: The already potent offense has yet another
weapon in senior PK Jeff Wolfert, who nailed 18 of 20 field goals
in 2006 and 21 of 25 last season. He's not just consistent, he's long
hitting eight of 12 from beyond 40 yards over the last two seasons.
While he's a candidate for the Lou Groza Award and is ultra-reliable, he
has a limit of about 48 yards. What makes his success all the more
remarkable is his background. A former walk-on, Wolfert came to Mizzou
as a diver.
The Tigers have struggled for years to get any production from the
punting game, so it's not a bad thing to lose Adam Crossett, who was
good at directional kicks but didn't get much of a blast. Juniors
Jake Harry and Tanner Mills will each get a shot to provide a
boost for the nation's 113th ranked passing game, but Harry, a JUCO
transfer, likely has the big edge going into the fall. The left-footer
has to show off a bigger leg to lock down the job.
Jeremy Maclin is one
of the nation's elite return men averaging 12.3 yards per punt return
and 24.2 yards per kickoff return.
Watch Out For ... Harry. The punting job appears to
be his. While Missouri is more about consistency, limiting returns, and
placement than distance, there's no reason to not get up over 40 yards
Strength: Wolfert and Maclin. These two are
All-America caliber special teamers who'll be difference makers every
Weakness: Punting distance. Netting 31.46 yards
per punt isn't a positive no matter how it's spun. The Tigers need to
get more out of Harry than they got out of Crossett.
Outlook: Mizzou will have the nation's best
special teams if there's a little bit of punting production. Maclin is
an unstoppable return man, Wolfert is an automatic kicker, and after a
bad 2006, the coverage teams improved and should be even better. Now the
nation's 113th ranked punting game needs some pop from Harry.