For most of the spring, the Missouri defense was absolutely dominant. That doesn’t happen unless the guys up front are playing well, and this spring, D-Line Zou played well.
Missouri came into Spring Football a little thin along the defensive line, and needing to establish some quality depth. The Tigers returned more experience on the inside than on the outside, where a pair of sophomores who last year played behind a pair of record-setting defensive ends were being counted on to step up and fill some rather enormous shoes.
Each day, Coach Kuligowski put his players through their paces with Missouri’s most-experienced defensive lineman, junior DT Harold Brantley, leading the way.
Brantley may be a somewhat reluctant spokesperson, but as Coach Kool said of the disruptive defensive tackle, “He’s our best player.”
Both of the sophomore defensive ends were good from day one of Spring Football, and as the spring went along, they kept getting better. Marcus Loud is bigger, stronger, and faster, after another off-season, and he’s playing on the left side with more intensity. On the right side, Charles Harris is explosive off the football, and he’s developing a repertoire of pass rush moves. During the scrimmages this spring, Harris and Loud were both very productive, making plays behind the line of scrimmage and getting to the quarterback.
Loud proved very difficult to block. Harris even more so. And with Brantley and Harris lined up side by side, the offense had their hands full, and plays were frequently disrupted before they got going. And certainly, the development of that trio played a big part in the defensive dominance this spring.
But there were a couple of other very positive and very exciting developments along the defensive line this spring. On the first day of Spring Football, when I saw Rickey Hatley for the first time since January 1st, I knew that he was about to have a breakout-type year. The results of his very successful off-season work were obvious. He was Missouri’s second-biggest DT, and he was absolutely ripped! I heard varying reports about how much Hatley weighed this spring, but by my eye he appeared to be at least 300 pounds. Coach Pinkel said that Hatley weighed 310 pounds. The added weight is all muscle.
And it didn’t take long for Hatley to demonstrate that he was here to compete for the starting job. After the first scrimmage, Hatley moved ahead of the mammoth junior DT, Josh Augusta. That seemed to motivate Augusta, who definitely needs to improve his conditioning, and possibly lose some weight. The hope is that Augusta will put in some of the work that Hatley has.
At the other DT position, Evan Winston and A.J. Logan battled it out for that 4th DT spot. Both players appeared to be better this spring, and they both appeared to get better throughout the spring. That last phrase also applies to all of the Missouri defensive linemen this spring. They all got better. However, Winston has since decided to transfer from Missouri.
The other of the very positive and very exciting developments along the defensive line this spring was the almost immediate emergence of red-shirt freshman Walter Brady. He quickly demonstrated his strength and athleticism, along with his intensity on the field, and he was quickly elevated to the second-team defense, where he then established himself. During the spring, Brady worked at both right and left defensive end, but toward the end of the spring, he was taking most of his reps on the left side, behind Marcus Loud, as Missouri’s #3 defensive end.
Hatley was deservedly awarded the Most-Improved Defensive Lineman Award. But if not for Hatley’s meteoric rise, Brady certainly would have been a worthy recipient of that award, even if he did kind of come out of nowhere.
A pair of red-shirt freshmen defensive ends worked hard this spring to get better, as they competed for inclusion on the two-deep. Rocel McWilliams and Spencer Williams each had their moments this spring, and they each showed promise. Early in the spring, it appeared that McWilliams held a slight advantage in their competition for a spot on the two-deep. But by spring’s end, Williams had forged slightly ahead in what looks to be a very close competition for that 4th DE spot. That's a competition that will likely continue into fall camp, and that will likely also include the newcomers set to arrive next month.
After the exodus of four of the top five Missouri defensive linemen from a year ago, I think most expected that there would be a drop-off in the effectiveness of the Missouri defensive line this year. While that remains to be seen, Missouri fans have reason to be encouraged with respect to this year’s defensive line. From what I saw this spring, I’m not sure there will be that much of a significant drop-off in the overall effectiveness of D-Line Zou.
Post-Spring Defensive Line Depth
DE 35 Marcus Loud 6’4” 260 (So) 56 Walter Brady 6’3” 255 (RSF) 92 Justin Grava 6’3” 250 (J) 59 Jeffrey Cathey 6’1” 195 (So)
DT 95 Rickey Hatley 6’4” 300 (J) 97 Josh Augusta 6’4” 332 (J) 88 Tyler Hanneke 6’4” 250 (J)
DT 90 Harold Brantley 6’3” 290 (J) 96 A.J. Logan 6’2” 302 (So) 51 Ed Cruz 6’2” 230 (So)
DE 91 Charles Harris 6’4” 256 (So) 13 Spencer Williams 6’3” 245 (RSF) 98 Rocel McWilliams 6’3” 245 (RSF) 52 Eddie Serrano 6’3” 225 (So)