Continuing with a position by position preseason look at the Tigers, ShowMeMizzou.com switches to the defensive side of the football, and takes a look at the Missouri defensive line.
Last year, Missouri utilized an 8-man rotation along the defensive line that was the strength of their defense during their 12-2 campaign. A lot has been made by others regarding the loss from that rotation of a pair of all-conference defensive ends and NFL draftees. Yet, the Tigers return a lot of talent along the defensive line, including 4 players who were listed last season as starters or co-starters, and 6 players who were a regular part of that 8-man rotation. In other words, Missouri returns a lot of experience along the defensive line.
Once again, Missouri’s defensive line promises to be the strength of their defense. Senior DE Markus Golden is the headliner. Last year, Golden began the year playing behind eventual SEC Defensive Player of the Year, Michael Sam, and he was playing a limited number of reps. But his production, which included 55 tackles, including 13 tackles-for-loss, 6.5 sacks, 8 quarterback hurries, and an interception return for a TD, earned him increased playing time. By November, Golden was deservedly splitting reps nearly equally with Sam, and he finished the season on a par with Missouri’s top DEs. Golden heads into fall camp with high expectations, and in addition, he has also taken on a leadership role for the Tigers.
On the other end of the line, Missouri returns junior Shane Ray, who was a co-starter for nearly the entire 2013 season. Last year, Ray made 39 tackles, including 9 TFLs, and 4.5 sacks. In addition, he forced 2 fumbles, and scooped and scored on a fumble to seal the win in the Cotton Bowl. Like Golden, Ray has approached this off-season on a mission, and he has improved himself physically to the point of achieving “freak” status, after posting ridiculous testing number this spring to include a 4.44 forty, a 42” vertical, and a 430-pound bench press. Ray has always been very fast off the edge. This year, he’s worked on being a more versatile pass rusher and defensive end.
This spring, a pair of red-shirt freshmen quickly established themselves as the second-team defensive ends behind Golden and Ray. Marcus Loud and Charles Harris have each continued to show considerable promise. They’ll make their much-anticipated playing debuts on August 30th. They’re being counted on as part of a 4-man rotation at defensive end, and the level of their performance will be key in determining the overall quality of Missouri’s defensive line play.
“They can potentially be great players,” Coach Pinkel said of Harris and Loud during the SEC Media Days. “Certainly, we need them to produce (this year).”
If Harris and Loud are able to play up to expectations, Missouri’s defensive line could be even better that last year’s.
A big part of that last statement is reflective of the expected quality and depth Missouri will have at the defensive tackle position, where the Tigers return their entire 4-man rotation from a year ago, which includes seniors Matt Hoch and Lucas Vincent, and sophomores Harold Brantley and Josh Augusta. In addition, three more young DTs will be competing for playing time, including sophomores Evan Winston and Rickey Hatley, and red-shirt freshman A.J. Logan. It’s not difficult to see why this experienced, deep, and talented position group is expected to be even better than they were a year ago. It was a group that got better throughout the 2013 season, and with four sophomores and a red-shirt freshman among the top 7 DTs, it’s reasonable to expect continued improvement going forward. Augusta and Brantley are potentially very high level players, and Winston is a much-improved player, as well.
One question facing defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski regarding the defensive tackle position is how many DTs does he play in a regular rotation? He likes to have a 5-man rotation, but this year, he could play 7 without seeing that much of a drop-off.
Fall camp will give us our first look at 3 freshmen defensive ends, including Rocel McWilliams, Spencer Williams, and Walter Brady. McWilliams might be the most likely of the three to earn some playing time this fall.
Here’s kind of what the Depth Chart might look like along the defensive line as the Tigers head into fall camp:
33 Markus Golden 6’3” 260 (S)
35 Marcus Loud 6’4” 270 (RSF)
52 Eddie Serrano 6’3” 225 (RSF)
98 Rocel McWilliams 6’3” 245 (F)
94 Walter Brady 6’3” 265 (F)
89 Matt Hoch 6’5” 295 (S)
50 Evan Winston 6’3” 295 (So)
75 A.J. Logan 6’2” 302 (RSF)
79 Adam Franklin 6’0” 265 (J )
99 David Butler 6’4” 280 (S)
96 Lucas Vincent 6’2” 288 (S)
97 Josh Augusta 6’4” 300 (So)
95 Rickey Hatley 6’4” 285 (So)
90 Harold Brantley 6’3” 290 (So)
56 Shane Ray 6’3” 245 (J)
91 Charles Harris 6’3” 248 (RSF)
92 Justin Grava 6’3” 260 (So)
93 Spencer Williams 6’4” 230 (F)