In Missouri's 4-3-4 defensive scheme, the linebacker position is critical, and very challenging. In 2010, Missouri received tremendous play from their outside linebackers, senior Andrew Gachkar and sophomore Zaviar Gooden. Gooden led the Tigers in total tackles, with 85. And, Gachkar was the team's second leading tackler, with 84 total tackles. These two speedsters were as productive as any member of Coach Steckel's crew. Gachkar was selected First-Team All-Conference, and Gooden was named as an All-Big 12 Honorable Mention.
The problem at the middle linebacker position was simply putting a healthy player on the field. Beginning with the first week of fall camp, when sophomore LB Donovan Bonner suffered a season-ending knee injury, Missouri's LB position was nearly decimated with injuries, and it was the MLB position that was hit the hardest.
Sophomore LB Adam Burton incurred another knee injury early on, and missed the entire season. Walk-on sophomore LB Tony Randolph had injured his knee at the close of spring ball, and spent almost all of 2010 rehabbing that knee.
Missouri's top three MLBs were injured for most of the season. Seniors Luke Lambert and Jeff Gettys suffered season-ending injuries during the early part of the season, and junior Will Ebner played much of the season with a broken foot. Lambert qualified for, and chose to apply for, a medical red-shirt, so he'll be back for a fifth year, in 2011. Ebner's injury didn't keep him out of the line-up, but it definitely slowed him down, and severely reduced his practice time during the season.
Ebner's injury allowed RSF Andrew Wilson an opportunity, and Wilson made the most of it, playing quite a bit at both the MLB position and the SLB position. Wilson's emergence as a player salvaged what could otherwise have been a disastrous situation. Late in the season, senior safety Jarrell Harrison drew quite a bit of attention for his role in doubling up as a situational LB. In fact, Harrison's primary function, as related to the LB position, was to slide up into the SLB position in passing situations, which in effect, made him the nickel back. In that package, Gachkar, who rarely left the field when he was healthy, slid over to play the middle linebacker spot. Late in the season, the coaching staff expanded Harrison's role as that SLB, in an effort to get players on the field who were healthy, and who could run.
Since Gooden never left the field, we never saw much of junior LB Josh Tatum, except on special teams. He did play a little bit of LB, but it was obvious that the coaching staff felt that he was not ready for an expanded role. Of course, Gooden played at such a high level, that there wasn't much thought of substituting for him. It appears that the demands of the position requires that, for most players, it takes a couple of years to master the position.