Heading into Spring Football, Missouri returns 6 of the 8 defensive linemen who were in the Tigers' regular defensive line rotation at the 2014 Cotton Bowl. In addition, Missouri was able to red shirt a handful of quality defensive linemen last season all of whom will enter the mix this spring.
On the inside, Missouri returns 4 starter-quality defensive tackles, including seniors Matt Hoch and Lucas Vincent, and sophomores Harold Brantley and Josh Augusta. This quartet was the backbone of Missouri's very productive defensive line last season, and it's not unreasonable to expect them, especially the sophomores, Brantley and Augusta, to be even better in 2014.
And, the quality and depth at defensive tackle doesn't stop with those four returning players. Red-shirt freshman DT A.J. Logan has drawn rare high praise for a freshman from the head coach, as Coach Pinkel predicted last fall that Logan will be "a great player" at Mizzou. I expect Logan to challenge for some playing time this year, although with the guys in front of him, it's going to be hard for him to rise above that #5 DT designation.
The coaching staff has high expectations for another red-shirt freshman, in DeQuinton Osborne. Like Logan, Osborne possesses a low center of gravity, and he is also very explosive off the ball.
This spring, the Tigers are a little thin at DE, but that's certainly not a reflection of the quality at the position, just the numbers. And, Missouri has addressed those numbers by recently signing three talented DEs who are expected to be here in June.
Missouri returns 2 DEs who were part of the Tigers' 4-man DE rotation in 2013, including junior Shane Ray and senior Markus Golden. By season's end, both Ray and Golden were functioning nearly as starters. In fact, Ray was listed as a co-starter for virtually the entire 2013 season, and in the last month of the season, Golden was Missouri's most-productive defensive end.
Behind Ray and Golden is a pair of talented red-shirt freshmen, in Charles Harris and Marcus Loud. Sophomore Rickey Hatley's in there, too, although he may end up moving inside to defensive tackle. Hatley's virtually outgrown the DE position, and when I saw him on the practice field in December, he appeared to be playing very well on the inside.
Loud would be enough to be excited about, because the early impressions have been very positive. But the excitement surrounding Harris has simply drowned out the Loud buzz. Had it not been for the abundance of talent at the DE position for Missouri last fall, Harris would have played, and the expectation is that he would have done very well. In November, Missouri's All-SEC left tackle, Justin Britt, said that he hadn't faced a better defensive end all season than the one (Harris) he faced in practice every day.
Here' is a projection of what the Depth Chart may look like along the defensive line at the beginning of the spring:
56 Shane Ray 6'3" 245 (J)
91 Charles Harris 6'3" 255 (RSF)
58 Ben Eskelson 6'2" 225 (So)
Eddie Serrano 6'3" 225 (RSF)
90 Harold Brantley 6'3" 290 (So)
96 Lucas Vincent 6'2" 305 (S)
75 A.J. Logan 6'2" 310 (RSF)
87 Nate Crawford 6'5" 285 (RSF)
99 David Butler 6'4" 280 (S)
89 Matt Hoch 6'5" 295 (S)
97 Josh Augusta 6'4" 300 (So)
50 Evan Winston 6'3" 295 (So)
94 DeQuinton Osborne 6'0" 310 (RSF)
33 Markus Golden 6'3" 260 (S)
35 Marcus Loud 6'4" 270 (RSF)
95 Rickey Hatley 6'4" 280 (So)
92 Justin Grava 6'3' 260 (So)
Not sure we'll see a lot of movement within the Depth Chart along the defensive line this spring. Maybe Augusta will replace Hoch as the starter, or more likely, share the starter designation with Hoch. If Hatley remains at DE, which he probably will at least throughout the spring, there will be the competition between he and Loud for the back-up job behind Golden.
At defensive tackle, the real competition will likely be for the last spot on the third-team defense, in effect, the #6 DT spot. Our expectation is that Osborne will take that spot by the end of the spring, but we'll see. Of course, if, or maybe when, Hatley completes the move inside, it is likely that he'll immediately be in the mix for one of those third-team spots.