Heading into 2012, Missouri returns three linebackers with fairly extensive starting experience, although to this point, two of those returning starters, junior Andrew Wilson and senior Will Ebner, have both primarily played the MLB position. One of the first things I'm going to be interested in seeing in the spring is just where each of those two players are positioned, along with another returning starter, in senior Zaviar Gooden.
Missouri Defensive Coordinator Dave Steckel has a policy of playing his three best linebackers, so once a young player has learned one position, he's usually asked to learn the others.
I expect to see Gooden, Wilson, and Ebner line up with the first-team defense at the beginning of the spring, but I'm not sure which one will be where.
At the level of the second-team defense, I think we'll see the trio of junior Donovan Bonner, red-shirt freshman Kentrell Brothers, and sophomore Darvin Ruise. Bonner saw limited action at linebacker a year ago, and he and Ruise were special teams' stalwarts.
Brothers may have been on his way to seeing the field in 2011, until he suffered a broken ankle near the end of camp. He appeared to be fully recovered when I saw him at practice in December.
Even though the starting linebackers usually see the bulk of the action for the Tigers, it's still very important for the second-string guys to establish themselves. As we've seen, injuries can result in an instant promotion, and with two seniors among what would appear to be the starting line-up, second-teamers are in line to move up, and they are on the practice field all season getting those valuable repetitions.
Red-shirt freshman Brandon Durant looked good last fall before he tore his ACL. I'm not sure of his status for spring football. I suspect that if we do see him, it likely won't be until after spring break.
With several talented linebackers due to arrive in June, this spring is an important time for the second and third string guys.
I expect to see Bonner and Brothers quickly establish themselves as guys who will be ready to compete for starting jobs in 2012.
This spring is an important time for Ruise. He's about as talented as any of Missouri's linebackers. Now, it's time for the former high-school quarterback to play to the level of his talent.
Once Durant gets back onto the field, I think we could see Brennan slide back over into the middle, where he'll compete with Parham for that third-team MLB spot.
Another interesting aspect of watching the linebackers this spring will be to see what the impact of the impending move to the SEC may be on how Missouri utilizes their linebackers, especially with respect to what affect it may have on the substitution of a fifth defensive back for a linebacker in passing situations.