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2009 Missouri Preview - Defense
Missouri DE Brian Coulter & LB Luke Lambert
CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Missouri Tiger Defense
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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
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.
Star of the defense:
Senior LB Sean Weatherspoon
Sean Weatherspoon, 5
Interceptions: Sean Weatherspon, 3
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore DE
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.