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2009 Missouri Preview - Defense
Missouri DE Brian Coulter & LB Luke Lambert
Missouri DE Brian Coulter & LB Luke Lambert
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Jun 4, 2009


CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Missouri Tiger Defense

Missouri Tigers

Preview 2009 - Defense

- 2009 CFN Missouri Preview | 2009 Missouri Offense
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2009 Missouri Defense | 2009 Missouri Depth Chart
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2008 Missouri Preview | 2007 Missouri Preview | 2006 Missouri Preview 

What you need to know:
After a rough year, allowing 412 yards per game, with most of them coming through the air, the defense has to hope that all the good athleticism and speed recruited over the last few years will pay off with big season. Only four starters return, but the cupboard is hardly bare with Sean Weatherspoon one of the nation's best linebackers to work around, and tackle Jaron Baston a good leader who should dominate at times. The secondary did a whole bunch of nothing last season, so replacing three starters isn't that big a deal. There is an upgrade at corner with Kevin Rutland appearing to be ready to become fantastic, while Kenji Jackson could turn out to have a better free safety than the much-heralded William Moore did
. The line has to find pass rushers, but there are plenty of good options to choose from with Aldon Smith, Brian Coulter, and Jacquies Smith all appearing to be ready to shine.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Sean Weatherspoon, 155
Sacks: Sean Weatherspoon, 5
Interceptions: Sean Weatherspon, 3

Star of the defense: Senior LB Sean Weatherspoon
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore DE Jacquies Smith
Unsung star on the rise: Junior CB Kevin Rutland
Best pro prospect: Weatherspoon
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Weatherspoon, 2) DT Jaron Baston, 3) Rutland
Strength of the defense: Linebacker, Speed
Weakness of the defense:
Pass defense, New starters

Defensive Line

Projected Starters
:
Only one starter returns up front, and he's a good one. 6-1, 305-pound senior Jaron Baston stepped in for all-star Lorenzo Williams and earned honorable mention All-Big 12 honors making 49 tackles with a sack and eight tackles for loss. The leader of the line and an anchor on the nose, he grew into the role after originally being a strong end prospect. He keeps on getting better, and now he might be one of the team's most important players as the one who should become a bigger-name star.

Trying to replace top pass rusher Stryker Sulak and become the team's new playmaker in the backfield might be Aldon Smith, a dangerous prospect with a world of upside at the end. The 6-5, 245-pound redshirt freshman has the size, the speed, and the closing speed to be a force in either a situational role or as a breakout star who can do it all. No matter what his role, he'll be a huge part of the mix with as much talent as any end the program has had under Gary Pinkel.

Taking up space on the inside will be Terrell Resonno, a 6-6, 295-pound sophomore who stepped up as a true freshman, after being considered one of the team's top recruits, making 13 tackles. He'll take over Ziggy Hood's spot, and while he might not be a star like Hood was right away, he has all-star upside with good quickness and strength.

6-4, 240-pound sophomore Jacquies Smith was a spot starter last season, working in a rotation with Tommy Chavis, making 46 tackles with a sack and three tackles for loss. Mizzou basically stole him out of Dallas a few years ago, and now he appears ready to shine in the full-time role with tremendous quickness and tackle-toughness against the run.

Projected Top Reserves: Former Florida State Seminole Brian Coulter went the JUCO route on the way to Columbia and was a nice pass rusher last season making three sacks and 29 tackles. He had problems with a torn labrum in his left shoulder, and he missed spring ball, but he's a good talent who'll be a part of the rotation at one end.

6-5, 255-pound sophomore Chris Earnhardt is a promising end who saw a few reps on the inside to utilize his quickness and toughness. He made 17 tackles in seven games of work, doing most of his damage against Nevada, and now he's being given every shot at a starting spot. If he can become a steady pass rusher, he'll be hard to keep out of the starting lineup.

Working in the middle, if he can stay healthy, will be 6-4, 305-pound Andy Maples adding more size behind Resonno. The superstar JUCO transfer was supposed to play a huge role right away as a ready-made interior presence, but he had problems with a foot injury that never healed. He only played in two games and didn't show off what he could do. The senior might be a breakout star.

Sophomore Dominique Hamilton stepped up in his first year making 18 tackles as a key backup on the nose. At 6-6 and 290 pounds he's a big presence who engulfs ball carriers and has all-star potential once he sees more playing time. As soon as he started making more plays in the backfield, he'll be too good to keep out of the lineup.

 
Watch Out For ... Aldon Smith. While he'll be a part of a rotation on the outside, he could be special with a little bit of time. He has the speed, the size, and the athleticism to be the pass rusher who camps out in opposing backfields on a regular basis.
Strength: Fantastic talent. Missouri went from having good players who played over their heads, to getting star recruits who everyone else wanted. There might be growing pains to work through, but this is a supremely talented line that will make up for problems with sheer skill.
Weakness: New starters. There might be a world of talented players waiting for their turn at bat, but losing three starters will still mean a bit of a growing period. Ziggy Hood and Stryker Sulak were special playmakers who will be missed.
Outlook: The line went from inconsistent to dominant, at times, making 103 tackles for loss and 33 sacks while holding teams to 125 rushing yards per game. This year's line is more talented, but it's going to take a while before all the young stars start to shine. There will be a good rotation by the middle of the season that keeps everyone fresh and productive. Give this group time and it could be special.
Rating: 7.5

Linebackers

Projected Starters
:
If Sean Weatherspoon isn't the best linebacker in college football, he's in the discussion. Steady, consistent, and with huge hitting ability, he followed up a 130-tackle season with 155 stops, five sacks, 18.5 tackles for loss and three interceptions. At 6-2 and 245 pounds, the senior is a big weakside defender who's a guided missile when he gets a bead on a ball-carrier and has unlimited range in both pass coverage and against the run. A first-team All-Big 12 star and Bednarik Award semifinalist, he's the unquestioned leader and star of a young but talented defense that will funnel everything his way. Not just a highlight reel playmaker, "Spoon" brings it game in and game out making 20 tackles against Buffalo and 17 against Northwestern in the Alamo Bowl. While he's not needed as a pass rusher, he can get to the quarterback and provide pressure when he has to.

Junior Luke Lambert started nine games on the strongside, but he only came up with 58 tackles with a sack. While he doesn't put up the big numbers, he's a good, sound defender who's also a star on special teams. Able to play inside or out, he has a non-stop motor and doesn't miss a tackle when he gets to the ball. While he's not huge at 6-3 and 235 pounds, he'll move to the middle in place of Brock Christopher.

With Lambert moving to the middle, 6-3, 230-pound junior Andrew Gachkar will step in on the strongside after making 28 tackles. A tough hitter and a tough special teamer, he overcame a blood clot problem to be a star reserve, and now he appears to be ready to become one of the team's top tacklers. He'll come up with a few highlight reel knockout shots, but he'll hurt himself along the way with his physical nature.  

Projected Top Reserves: 6-3, 235-pound junior Jeff Gettys was a star walk-on who became a tremendous special teamer. He's a decent athlete who'll once again make the most noise on special teams, but he's willing to do anything on defense either on the strongside or the middle after finishing last season with six tackles with an interception against Nevada.

Backing up Weatherspoon on the weakside will be Cornell Ellis, a 6-0, 230-pound redshirt freshman with excellent quickness and punch-packing hitting ability. This year will be all about being the understudy with Weatherspoon rarely coming out. He'll be a leading tackler next year.

Sophomore Will Ebner made 21 tackles with three tackles for loss as a backup in the middle, and while he'll be a key part of the rotation at some point this year, he has to get over a shoulder injury. Purely a middle linebacker, he's a tone-setter of a hitter who'll make big pops all over the field. However, he has to make sure he doesn't hurt himself when he's erasing ball carriers.
 
Watch Out For ... a regular rotation on the strongside. Weatherspoon and Lambert are sure things, but it might take a while to find the one guy ready to star at the third spot. Gachkar is ready to get a shot, but Gettys and others will make a push.
Strength: Weatherspoon. On a promising defense that needs as many veteran leaders as possible, "Spoon" is the star of the show. He doesn't make every play himself; it just seems like it at times.
Weakness: Production against the top running teams. The Tiger linebacking corps was great against the teams that couldn't do much on the ground, but Oklahoma, Texas, and Oklahoma State ran without a problem. Coming up with more stops at the line, rather than five yards down the field, will be a must against the better ground games.
Outlook: Thanks to the play of Weatherspoon, this was a good linebacking corps that teetered on greatness at times last season. With Lambert playing an expanded role and with several promising new players in the mix, everything will be fine as long as "Spoon" is on the field to clean up the messes. The line will take care of most of the work so there won't need to be too much blitzing. This group should be able to focus on taking care of its own space, and it should do a good job of it.
Rating: 7.5


Defensive Backs

Projected Starters
:
The secondary was a disaster last year, so it shouldn't hurt too much to lose William Moore, the star free safety who had a disappointing season compared to the hype. 5-10, 195-pound sophomore Kenji Jackson was good enough to become a starter in nickel packages by the end of last year, and when Mizzou went to a 4-2-5 alignment. and finished with 62 tackles with two interceptions. Extremely fast, he has tremendous range and should be able to do far more against the pass now that he has the free safety job.

Taking over for Justin Garrett at strong safety will be Hardy Ricks, a 6-0, 200-pound veteran who made 39 tackles as a key reserve. Versatile enough to play either safety spot, the senior has found time in several places in the secondary and is one of the team's most experienced defensive backs. A big hitter who lives off of delivering the knockout punch, his job will be to make the routing plays while not getting himself hurt with his shots. He suffered a shoulder injury a few years ago.

Returning to one corner spot, and the only returning starter, is 5-11, 200-pound junior Carl Gettis. While he was a good tackler with 78 stops, he only picked off one pass and broke up four. Even with his problems against the pass he earned honorable mention All-Big 12 honors and has excellent upside. He's better against the physical receivers than the big ones, but now he just needs to make more plays. 

The team's best corner as the season goes on should be Kevin Rutland, a 6-0, 195-pound junior who made 25 tackles with an interception and five broken up passes. Able to play anywhere in the secondary, he has seen time everywhere and is expected to be special after a strong spring and an overall improvement in his game. If he's not the team's fastest player, he's second.

Projected Top Reserves: Looking to make a bigger impact at free safety is Del Howard after making 41 tackles with just one broken up pass. the 5-11, 200-pound senior is great against the run and has proven that he can step in when needed and be more than fine, getting starts against SE Missouri and Buffalo, and now he'll push Jackson in the rotation.

After waiting a year, former Notre Dame corner Munir Prince is available and will work behind Rutland at one spot. He can also move to free safety if needed, but he'll need on-field time after spending his limited career for the Irish at running back. While he's not huge at 5-10 and 185 pounds, he's one of the team's fastest players with 4.3 wheels.

5-11, 190-pound sophomore Trey Hobson has a nice blend of speed and toughness at corner. While he'll have to fight for playing time with Prince and several redshirt freshmen, he's one of the team's most experienced backups making 16 tackles. One of the team's better athletes, he plays bigger than his size because of his leaping ability. He'll find a spot somewhere.
 
Watch Out For ... Rutland. The Mizzou secondary is full of great athletes and plenty of speedsters, Rutland stands out. It has taken a few years for the football side of the equation to come around, but he appears to have it all together now and he should be the team's best corner.
Strength: Speed and tackling. It's a nice combination to have in a group of defensive backs. The Tiger DBs can move. Really move. They can also provide a big pop, almost to a negative with too many big shots being taken when the routine would do just fine.
Weakness: Interceptions from the corners. This has been a big issue for the last few seasons with the corners coming up with just three picks last year. Overall, the secondary has to make far more big plays when the ball is in the air.
Outlook: The secondary was awful last season for several reasons. Teams had to fire away to try to keep up the pace with the Tiger offense, the Big 12 was full of great passers, and, well, the DBs just stunk. The pass defense gave up 300 yards or more in the final four games, and while it's one thing to get bombed on by Kansas or Oklahoma, Iowa State went nuts, too. This year's secondary isn't starting over, but it only gets back one starter and has to hope that the speed and athleticism across the board can translate into production.
Rating: 6.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters
:
Jeff Wolfert finished his career as the most accurate kicker in the history of college football. Columbia native Tanner Mills will get the first shot at taking over, and while he'll have major competition, he has a booming leg on kickoffs. Sophomore Trey Barrow will be given every shot to win the job.

Back to punt is Jake Harry after averaging 40.7 yards per kick. The former JUCO transfer was fine, and Missouri finished 16th in the nation in net punting, but he only put ten inside the 20. That's because he only had to attempt 26 punts. The rugby-style kicker is a good one the team can count on.
 
Watch Out For ... Mills. He's not going to be Wolfert, but he has a booming leg and will get plenty of tries from deep. Wolfert hit just one of five shots from beyond the 50. Mills will connect on more.
Strength: Harry. He was consistent and came up big when counted on. He turned a major negative into a strength.
Weakness: The return game. Can you return kicks? If so, you have a shot at replacing Jeremy Maclin. It'll be an open casting call to find the best kick and punt return options.
Outlook: The Missouri special teams were terrific in every phase but kickoff coverage. This year, there's a big question mark at placekicker and a huge hole in the return game losing Maclin. There won't be too much of an overall slip, but there will be at least one time this year when not having Wolfert will cost the Tigers a game.
Rating: 6.5