Following the 2011 season, Missouri lost three starters along the defensive line to graduation. This spring, the Tigers look to some underclassmen to step forward and to take on increased roles.
One returning starter, senior DE Brad Madison, is recovering from shoulder surgery after playing through injury in 2011, a season in which he made 25.5 tackles, including 8.5 tackles for loss, and 4.5 sacks. He also forced a fumble, had 3 QB hurries, and came up with an interception. His availability for the beginning of spring ball is in question. We could see him on the field following spring break, which would be a welcome sight.
Junior DE Michael Sam was a part-time starter in 2011, and he was really coming on toward season's end. In 2011, Sam registered 29 tackles, including 3 tackles for loss, and 1.5 sacks. He also had 1 pass-break-up, an interception, and 4 QB hurries. He'll be lining as the starter on one side this spring.
With Madison likely sidelined for the start of spring ball, sophomore DE Kony Ealy will step into a starting role. He saw a lot of action last year, as well. In 2011, Ealy made 13 tackles, including 3 TFLs, and a sack. This year is Ealy's time.
At the beginning of the spring, the second team defensive ends will be junior Brayden Burnett and red-shirt freshman Shane Ray. Burnett has seen considerable playing time, and Ray was one of the more impressive freshmen in practice last fall. In 2011, Burnett garnered 15 tackles, including 4 TFLs, and 2.5 sacks. He forced a fumble and was credited with a QB hurry.
Sophomore DE Derrion Thomas, a walk-on, is the next one in.
On the inside, senior DT Sheldon Richardson was a co-starter the second half of 2011, a year in which the talented defensive lineman recorded 37 tackles, 8 TFLs, and 2 sacks. He also forced a fumble, and was credited with 2 QB hurries and a pass-break-up. Richardson is recovering from post-season shoulder surgery, and he likely miss a portion of spring ball.
Sophomore NT Lucas Vincent played very well as a back-up last year, in registering 11 tackles, including 2 TFLs. He also recorded a pass-break-up and 2 QB hurries. Vincent will be counted on heavily this year.
Entering the spring, senior Jimmy Burge and sophomore Matt Hoch will be counted on to move up. In limited playing time in 2011, Burge recorded 3 tackles. Hoch, who registered 2 tackles, including 1 TFL, 1 sack, and 1 QB hurry while playing defensive end in 2011, will have every opportunity this spring to play himself into a significant role for Missouri this year. I recently saw Hoch, who is up to 290 pounds. He passes the eyeball test.
At the beginning of the spring, Burge will be listed as the starter at the DT position, in Richardson's absence. Hoch will be his back-up, and he intends to challenge Burge for the starting position.
The injury bug has once again bitten junior DT Marvin Foster. He's recently undergone knee surgery and he will miss spring football.
It looks like senior DT George White will be called upon to step up this spring. At the beginning of the spring, White is expected to line up on the nose behind Vincent.
I like the eventual starting duo of Richardson and Vincent. And it appears that Hoch may make an impact on the depth.