The University of Missouri came into spring practices with a few position battles to watch, but the strong side linebacker spot wasn’t supposed to be one of them.
Donavin Newsom held down that position last fall, when he finished fourth on the team in tackles, and was expecting to be there once again going into his redshirt senior season in 2016.
But with the Tigers returning to practice after some time off for Spring Break, it was rising sophomore Terez Hall who emerged as the guy at the SAM linebacker spot.
“Mainly I’m getting most of the reps right now, but fact is we’re still competing,” Hall said. “He’s still my bro off the field and everything like that, but when we’re on the field it’s strictly business, we’re trying to earn a spot.”
One of eight true freshmen to play in 2015, the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Hall has impressed the coaching staff this offseason.
What do the coaches like about him?
“I know what I’m doing,” Hall said. “I know the playbook. I bring more physical standpoint to it. I play real aggressive. I go to hit people pretty hard and everything like that. So I feel like they like that a whole lot.”
The Tigers return eight starters from last season, including Michael Scherer at middle linebacker and Newsom on the outside. One of the big needs this offseason was to find a replacement at the weakside linebacker spot previously locked down by Kentrell Brothers.
“He brings a lot to the game and everything,” Hall said. “He’s tough. Being on the field with him, he knew everything. Being on the field, he would help you out. Say, for instance, I was at SAM and had to blitz somebody. He’d said, Hey, Terez, go blitz or something like that. That’s the biggest point. From a physical standpoint, I think we’ve got it. He’s a big part, but we have to move on.”
Joe Burkett, a 6-2, 210-pounder redshirt junior, is the front runner there so far through the spring but he also has some competition from some young players.
When the Tigers take the field at West Virginia on Sept. 3, it could be Burkett at the WILL linebacker spot or one of Missouri’s younger up-and-coming backers.
“He has to step in,” Hall said of Burkett. “It depends on him, though. You’ve got B Lee, Brandon Lee. He’s a pretty good resource. Then you’ve got Trey Baldwin. He’s pretty good, too. Everybody. Even me, I’m learning the spot as well. The fact is, if they don’t step in and do it, I’ll do it.”
Hall discussed the competition between Burkett and Lee, a 6-2, 220-pounder going into his redshirt sophomore season.
“It’s been tough,” Hall said. “One do good one day. The other be kind of down. It’s off and on. One hasn’t really just took the spot yet.”
Baldwin is a 6-2, 240-pound freshman who was one of Missouri’s early enrollees this semester.
“One thing I like about him, because I do the same exact thing, he’s a very physical person,” Hall said. “Him bringing that physical, you don’t really have to teach that. Hey, Trey, go in and tackle and stop being scared. He’s got that already.”
However the position battles unfold, the fact that the Tigers have competition at the linebacker spots should help those players get better and make the talented defense even better.
Hall got a little experience during his debut season — he played in 12 games, mostly on special teams, and finished with seven tackles — and that helped him with the adjustment from high school to college.
“It showed me the competition on the field,” Hall said. “It’s not like high school. When I was in high school, I would just run down there and people just move out of the way because of who I am and I’d go tackle someone. Now it’s like they are coming to block you. You’ve got guards and freaking defensive ends out there on kickoff return. So they’re not going to move out of my way — they are going to come block me now. It just showed me the speed of the game.”
2016 MIZZOU SPRING FOOTBALL PREVIEWS