Coming into Spring Football, Missouri brought back 6 of the 8 defensive linemen who were in their defensive line rotation at the 2014 Cotton Bowl. And while the top two lines on the Depth Chart at defensive end remained unchanged throughout the spring, there was considerable movement throughout the spring in the Depth Chart at defensive tackle.
At defensive end, senior Markus Golden and junior Shane Ray returned from stellar 2013 seasons to take over starting jobs. While very different type of players, Golden and Ray share several traits, including the experience of having performed at a very high level. They also bring tremendous motors to the field, and tremendous drive, coupled with outstanding work ethic. Both have gotten better since last season, and both will continue to get better. And, they are establishing themselves as leaders on and off the field.
This spring, Ray posted an eye-popping 4.43-second time in the 40-yard dash to go along with an astounding 43" vertical. He's just a blur off the edge! He's also just incredibly strong, with personal bests of 420 pounds in the bench press and over 600 pounds in the squat. Earlier this spring, Ray told ShowMeMizzou.com that he's working on improving against the run. At times this spring, Ray was in the backfield before the QB had time to do anything.
Golden, who ran a 4.7-second forty this spring, isn't as fast as Ray, but he combines a mixture of speed and strength to wreak havoc on the other side. This spring, Golden just continued to improve against both the run and the pass. There's no question that Golden and Ray solidified themselves as the starters, and based on what we saw this spring, there's every indication that both of Missouri's starting defensive ends are headed for big seasons.
An important factor in insuring big seasons for Golden and Ray will be the development of depth behind them, so that once again, Missouri will be able to utilize a three or four-man rotation at the position.
A pair of red-shirt freshmen defensive ends, Charles Harris and Marcus Loud, each spent the spring working with the second team defense, and they each performed well, at times, very well. It appears to me that Harris and Loud are ready to play, and that they have placed themselves in strong position to be included as part of the defensive end rotation this season. How much they play will be determined later, but it appears to me that they will play this year, and that Missouri will once again be able to utilize a 4-man rotation at the position.
Throughout the spring, there was quite a bit of movement at the defensive tackle position.
The returning starters, seniors Matt Hoch and Lucas Vincent, began the spring at the top of the Depth Chart. Hoch was injured pretty early in the spring, underwent surgery, and spent the rest of the spring watching. The slimmed-down Vincent, who appears to be in the best physical condition of his career, held onto his starting spot throughout the spring. Earlier this spring, the 288-pound Vincent reported that he had run a 4.88-second forty.
When Hoch went down, sophomore Josh Augusta stepped into the starter's role. Augusta, who was named one of the Most-Improved at his position, came into the spring in much better physical condition than when he played last fall. He can still improve his conditioning by a considerable margin, but he appeared to be quicker, and stronger, and he also displayed much-improved stamina. Listed at 300 pounds, the 6'4" Augusta probably weighed closer to 325 pounds this spring. Still, in one of the scrimmages, the big man nearly chased Maty Mauk (4.51 forty) down from behind. At times, Augusta was simply dominant, and at one time or another, nearly every interior offensive lineman at Missouri has been tossed aside like a rag doll by the powerful big man.
A pair of sophomore defensive tackles each made good use of the opportunity afforded them this spring, as Evan Winston and Rickey Hatley closed out the spring with the second-team defense. Winston Rose up the Depth Chart this spring, and along with Augusta, he was named as one of the Most-Improved at his position. Formerly a defensive end, Hatley has grown into an interior defensive lineman. Yet he has retained the mobility he had on the outside. It's speaks to their work ethic, and to their development, that Winston and Hatley finished the spring on the two-deep, particularly with the number and the quality of the candidates competing for those jobs. Yet the competition for inclusion in the playing rotation this fall is far from over.
I counted six different defensive tackles who took second-team reps in the Black & Gold Scrimmage. That would seem to suggest a close competition among a number of competitors for those spots. And, it also strongly suggests that the Tigers are extremely deep at defensive tackle. So, how many DTs will the Tigers play this fall? Probably not all nine. But a 6-man rotation might not be out of the question.
A co-starter at defensive tackle last season, sophomore Harold Brantley was slimmed down this spring, and he worked some at defensive end, although he worked primarily at defensive tackle.
Also very much included in this competition are a trio of red-shirt freshmen, in DeQuinton Osborne, A.J. Logan, and Nate Crawford, each of whom took second-team reps this spring, and each of whom had their moments, and made plays.
Too many quality defensive tackles is certainly a good problem to have, and one that I'm sure the coaches will be able to sort out. The quality and the numbers add to the competition, which just serves to make everyone better. The coaches will say that the competition will sort itself out, and that by their performance on the field, the players will decide which ones will play.
Rotating a number of quality, fresh defensive tackles should result in a strong push up the middle, which along with a quality defensive end rotation, should spell nightmare for opposing quarterbacks. Once again, it appears that the defensive line will be the strength of the Missouri defense.
33 Markus Golden 6'3" 260 (S)
35 Marcus Loud 6'4" 270 (RSF)
92 Justin Grava 6'3" 260 (So)
52 Eddie Serrano 6'3" 225 (RSF)
97 Josh Augusta 6'4" 300 (So)
50 Evan Winston 6'3" 295 (So)
94 DeQuinton Osborne 6'0" 310 (RSF)
87 Nate Crawford 6'5" 285 (RSF)
89 Matt Hoch 6'5" 295 (S) (injured)
96 Lucas Vincent 6'2" 288 (S)
95 Rickey Hatley 6'4" 285 (So)
75 A.J. Logan 6'2" 310 (RSF)
90 Harold Brantley 6'3" 274 (So)
56 Shane Ray 6'3" 240 (J)
91 Charles Harris 6'3" 248 (RSF)
79 Adam Franklin 6'0" 265 (J )
99 David Butler 6'4" 280 (S)