Spring football wrap-up: The Defense

By all accounts, Missouri's consistently weak area last fall was its defense. The Tigers tweaked the alignments a bit and introduced a dozen new faces to this unit. Tiger fans may not know what to expect from this group this fall, but there will certainly be more depth and more speed at almost every position. Here is our end of spring wrap-up report on the Tigers' defense.

It's a beautiful day here in Columbia, with a clear blue sky, and 65 degrees.  I am down on the Faurot Field grass (for the last time it sounds like, hello Field Turf).  Man am I ready for some Tiger football.  I planned to give you guys a practice report, but there is really nothing much to
report.  The team had an abbreviated one hour practice today in helmets and shorts.  No scrimmaging, just a few drills.  The only thing of note was that Terrance Curry was drilling with the first team D at CB.  I'm not sure if there is any significance to that though.  Since this was the last spring practice, I thought I would run down what changed and what stayed the same this spring and what we can expect next fall from each position.  

DEFENSE

Defensive Line
What changed?  Quit a bit.  Attiyah Ellison has been moved from end to tackle.  Zack Ville has shot up the depth chart to first team DE.  Brian Smith has gone from scout team to first team at the other end position.

What stayed the same?  Russ Bell and CJ Mosley are still manning the NG position and looking rugged.

What can we expect?  This group has a lot of upside, but also has several question marks.  I think we can expect the interior line to be better then last year.  I know we lost Keith Wright, and he was a stud, but there are several reasons to expect the DT and NG positions to be improved.  Bell and Mosley had virtually no experience last year.  Now with a year under their
belts they should be much better.  Also, Ellison made very little impact at DE, I think the move inside has helped him immensely.   He is a good run stopper and gets a good push up field because of his strength.  He looks like he will be a difference maker rotating in at DT.   Ee still have Pitts to plug into the rotation inside also and he  is a serviceable player as well. 

The End position still has a lot of questions that need to be answered.  I think we will get good production from Ville.  He looks like a player that can make a real impact, but he has never done it at the D1 level so only time will tell.  Brian Smith at the other DE is even more of question mark.  There is little doubt that the kid can rush the passer.  He has great speed and agility for a DE, but his size is always going to be a concern.  At 210 pounds it remains to be seen if he can stand up to the run or the pounding of a full Big 12 season.  The other concern is depth at DE.
After Smith and Ville there is very little.  Terrell Mills was hurt all spring, so he did nothing to show us if he is ready to step up if needed.  Groth was moved to DE and he looks like he might be able to provide some minutes.  If Ville or Smith falter or are hurt we might have a real problem.   Overall I think this group has a chance to be better then last season's D-Line, but this spring didn't fully answer all the questions.

Linebacker
What changed?  Like the D-Line, a lot changed with the Linebackers.  Brandon Barnes was  moved from FS to LB and was able to shoot up to first team.  Orlando "Doc" Gooden was moved from Rover to LB.  Emmett Morris looks ready to challenge for a starting spot.  Derrocl Ming looked to be just a step behind Morris, Barnes, Kinney & Sweat.

What stayed the same?  Kinney was hurt most of the spring with a knee injury, but he is nearly back to full strength and remains with the first unit.  Henry Sweat still looks like a solid player that will supply good depth at LB.

What can we expect?  This group has a chance to better then last season, but probably not a lot better.  Kinney should be better due to more experience and he also looks like he has put on some more muscle.  The battle for the other LB spot should be very interesting this fall.  I found Barnes to be a much better LB then I expected him to be.  Morris really stepped up and has put himself in position to battle for a starting spot next fall.  I think Morris has the greatest chance to be a special player and I hope to see him make the move and take over.

Whip and Rover
What changed?  Dedrick Harrington stepped up and took over the Rover position and seems to have distanced himself from Justin Scott.  Josh Hibbits was moved from QB to Whip.  He appears to have a ways to go before he will be ready to contribute.  Brandon Smith was moved from LB to Rover.  He was injured all spring, so I have no idea how he might fit in.

What stayed the same?  Jason Simpson is still the starter at Whip.

What can we expect.  I think the Whip and the Rover are two positions that will be greatly improved this fall.  Jason Simpson now has a full season of experience under his belt and is bigger and stronger.  Simpson simply doesn't get the publicity he deserves.  He is a talented
athlete and is a fearless hitter.  I think he will be a player that people are going  to see a great deal of improvement from.  He had a nice spring and I think he will continue that trend in the fall.  Harrington looks like a lock at Rover.  Tauras Ferguson was a solid contributor last season, but Harrington has a chance to be so much more.  This kid has so much ability it is frightening.  He didn't make too many big plays this spring, but I think once he gets more comfortable with the scheme and his assignments in it he will be a real difference maker.  We look like we have solid depth at Rover with Scott, Wade and Brandon Smith.  The Whip is a different story.  I don't see anyone behind Simpson that is ready to step in and play a bunch of minutes.  There should be a good opportunity for an incoming freshman to get right into the depth next year at Whip ( Mr. Terrell are you up for it?)

Free Safety
What changed?  Hello Mr. Nino Williams.  Fans are going to love this guy.  David Overstreet was moved from QB to FS.  Marcus King was moved from FS to CB.

What stayed the same?  Nothing.

What can we expect?  The biggest improvement from any of the defensive positions should happen at this position.  Tiger fans are going to love what they see from our Free Safeties.
Nino can hit and he is flat out a play maker. Overstreet looks like a natural at FS.  It is amazing
how quickly he has picked up the position and he is a great looking natural athlete.  FS looks set for the next 4 years.  Williams for the next two and Overstreet for the two after that.  These guys are going to improve the defense this fall a great deal.

Cornerback
What changed?  King was brought over from FS. Curry is back and healthy.  Shirdonya Mitchell was moved over from WR.  Calvin Washington stepped up and got himself
in the mix for a starting job.

What stayed the same?  Harden is still in the mix and looks like the most likely to be a starter of the bunch.  Kincade is still right in the fight also.

What can we expect?  Your guess is as good as mine.  I couldn't even tell you who the favorites are to start at this point.  This battle is really close.  Will we be better?  I don't see any way we could be worse.  The one clear improvement is depth.  We have five good options for next season and I think there is a good chance that at least two of those five candidates will step up and give us a solid pair of CB's.  Of course, cornerbacks are only as good as the pressure provided up front, and the corners should get more support there than in the past.

Overall, I think the greatest chance for improvement on defense will come from the Free Safety, Whip and Rover positions.  I don't think this defense will be dominant, but it looks capable of being better then average next fall, which should be good enough if Missouri's offense is as good as advertised.


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