While it was Missouri’s outstanding defensive line that elevated Missouri’s defense to new heights under Coach Pinkel, the Mizzou LB corps played their part, as well. ShowMeMizzou.com reviews the LB position for the 12-2 Tigers.
Heading into the 2013 season, it was Coach Pinkel himself who called this one of his best group of LBs during his time at Missouri. As the season played out, Missouri’s LBs proved effective enough for the Tigers to win their division and cap it off with a 12th win in the Cotton Bowl.
It was in the Cotton Bowl win that senior LB Andrew Wilson surpassed his father, Jay, on Missouri’s career list for total tackles. A three-year starter, Wilson led Missouri is tackles for the third straight season. He finished the 2013 season with 113 total tackles, including 6.5 TFLs, to go along with 2 QBHs, 3 PBUs, and a fumble recovery. Wilson was certainly a big part of the “best LB corps” to which Coach Pinkel referred in his pre-season remarks. During his Missouri career, Wilson, who finished 10th on Mizzou’s career list with 332 tackles, gave the Tigers a physical, attacking presence from the LB position that Missouri has rarely had on the field under Coach Pinkel. Wilson aggressively attacked the line of scrimmage and knocked people backwards, an invaluable trait that helped to make it more difficult to run on Missouri during the 2013 season.
Sophomore Kentrell Brothers didn’t claim the starting job at WLB until late in fall camp, but he continued to improve throughout the season as he started all 14 games. He was one of Missouri’s most-productive defensive players, finishing the season with 70 total tackles, including 6.5 TFLs, and 1 sack, to go along with 2 QBHs, 3 PBUs, and 3 interceptions. Brothers is not the fastest guy, but he’s quick, and he diagnoses plays quickly. He has very good ball skills, and despite his relative lack of straight line speed, he’s very good in coverage. He’s another reason that Coach Pinkel meted out such high praise, and held such high expectations, for Missouri’s 2013 LBs.
Missouri’s third starting LB, senior Donovan Bonner, played in all 14 games, and made 8 starts, for Missouri in 2013. The reason that Bonner didn’t start every game is that against Missouri’s other 6 opponents, the Tigers started the game with their nickel package on the field, and in that package, Bonner was the one who usually came off the field. Bonner was listed as the starting SLB, and that’s where he played for much of the season, but later in the season, Bonner and Wilson would at times switch places, and Bonner would man the middle. Bonner was very productive, and he finished the season with 62 total tackles, 4.5 TFLs, 1 sack, and 3 QBHs. As stated, Bonner usually came off the field in passing situations, although his versatility permitted Defensive Coordinator and Linebacker Coach Dave Steckel to do more substituting at the LB position than in previous seasons.
Another component of the ability to substitute was the presence of a fourth LB who saw extensive regular playing time throughout the 2013 season. Junior Darvin Ruise began fall camp listed as the starter at WLB, before giving way to Brothers late in camp. Yet, Ruise was a regular part of the LB rotation throughout the 2013 season, and he finished with 44 tackles, including 1 TFL, to go along with 1 PBU, 1 interception, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery.
With four quality LBs, and the experience and versatility of the two fifth-year seniors, Wilson and Bonner, Coach Steckel was able to utilize a substitution rotation at the LB position for really the first time at Missouri under Coach Pinkel. Missouri had substituted LBs in the past, but not with the frequency and regularity with which they were able to do so in 2013. And over the course of the season, I think it made Missouri’s LB play more effective. Maybe it was exactly that kind of quality depth to which Coach Pinkel was referring in his pre-season remarks?
RSF Michael Scherer played in all 14 games for Missouri in 2013. He saw action on special teams, and also at MLB, where he was listed as Wilson’s back-up. Early in the season, Scherer saw regular playing time at MLB, although later in the season, it was Bonner who took most of those reps. Scherer finished the season with 6 tackles and 1 TFL, and he heads into the off-season as Wilson’s heir-apparent, big shoes to fill for sure. Scherer is a physical player, and he’s shown toughness. He’s been better in coverage than expected, but overall, he’s got a lot of room for improvement if he’s to maintain the standard left behind. Still, 2013 provided Scherer with a solid initiation, and first-hand experience.
Two other LBs played for Missouri in 2013. Sophomore Clarence Green (1 tackle) and RSF Donavin Newsom (5 tackles) each played in 10 games as they each saw action on special teams throughout the season, as well as taking limited reps at LB. Both players show promise.