A look ahead to Missouri's 2004 defense

As improved as the 2003 defense was from the year before, look for Gary Pinkel's defense to take another big step forward in 2004. However, now that the depth is stocked with capable athletes, what players might be switching positions this spring?

The lack of quality depth Pinkel saw upon his arrival has quietly been filled over the last three seasons, and job-based competition should lead to solid play from every position on the field.

Here's a position-by-position look at what to expect in 2004.

The defensive end position looks solid next year, as none of the current starters have departed. Plus, this group should get a couple of solid players in grey-shirts Phinney Troy and Gartrell Cooper. Back after a solid true freshman season is sophomore Xzavie Jackson (6-4, 248), along with senior Zach Ville (6-2, 270). Also back is sophomore Brian Smith (6-4, 220), who poses some interesting possibilities for the Tigers (more on that later). Providing quality depth is sophomore Fabian Bean and junior Elgin Childress. Also on the roster are two sophomores, Jason Gannon (6-3, 230), and Paul Caldwell (6-0 215). We expect the Tigers will get a commitment from Calcius Williams (6-4/205/4.70) who will redshirt and will possibly be a factor in 2005, and Mizzou is still pursuing junior college standout Abraham Wright at this position.

At defensive tackle, the Tigers saw big improvement this season from Atiyyah Ellison (6-4, 290), and they hope he can take another equally big step forward during his senior season. The only notable losses suffered here is that of Russ Bell and rotation player Rusty Groth. Second-team All-Big 12 junior CJ Mosley (6-3, 290), and senior Phil Pitts (6-1, 275) return as well. The Tigers will also add highly-touted RSFR Zane Tomlin and junior Earl Stephens to the mix at this position. Other players providing line depth include sophomores Rob Hoover (6-2, 245), Zach Kauflin (6-3, 230), and Scott Wheatley (6-3, 280). The Tigers are also still heavily recruiting Juco prospect George Lane (6-3, 280) who played this season at the College of the Siskiyous in Weed, CA.

At linebacker, Mizzou coaches will have some tough decisions to make. While half of the 2003 duo of Brandon Barnes and co-captain James Kinney (back for his senior year, 6-0, 230) return, coaches are hoping for more consistent, if not spectacular play, from their backers. Expect physical specimen Dedrick Harrington (6-4, 230) to move inside to help fill Barnes' position.

Perhaps the most intriguing prospect involves moving Michigan State transfer David Richard to inside linebacker from tailback. Richard is a physical specimen who would bring instant size, speed and aggressiveness to the Tigers' defense.

And then there is the possibility that RSFR Lo Williams (6-2, 240) will burst on to the scene and grab a starting position this spring. He had a very solid redshirt year, but could also end up as a DE if that position ends up being a larger area of need.

Also in the mix are senior Henry Sweat (6-0, 230), junior Derrick Ming (5-11, 243), sophomore Emmett Morris (6-0, 225). All three of these players have yet to put it all together in the black and gold.

And what about undersized hitting machine Orlando Gooden (6-1, 210, JR), or the solidly built Elgin Childress (6-1, 241, JR)?

To add to the linebacker crew are highly-recruited incoming freshmen speed merchants Van Alexander (verbal, 6-1/210/4.5), Aaron O'Neal (verbal 6-2/210/4.56), and Edgar Givens (verbal, 6-4/205/4.5). These players may not figure into the 2004 picture, but they provide promise for better linebacker play in the future.

The defensive backs played solidly, but unspectacularly, this year. That and linebacker will be the two biggest challenges for the 2004 defense to improve.

Rover was a solid position for MU, with Quincy Wade (5-9, 175 junior) really showing his hitting ability and coverage skills since being inserted into the lineup midway through the year (so much so that moving Harrington to LB has become a reality). Another possibility for the coaches to consider would be moving DE Brian Smith to Rover to capitalize on his excellent speed and pass rushing capabilities. Junior Justin Scott also provides a solid play here.

At Whip, another year of seasoning will only make sophomore David Overstreet (6-0, 200) better. Overstreet is very quick and athletic, and displayed the best coverage skills of all of the Tigers at this position this season. Junior Jason Simpson (6-0, 198) is more than a capable backup, and sophomore Marcus Bacon (6-2, 190) is too talented to keep off the field.

Missouri's free safety position looks very solid with the return of Senior Nino Williams. It's possible Bacon could be moved here, but there is a definite lack of experience behind Williams. Sophomore Josh Hibbets is still learning the position, and his learning curve will dictate his playing time. Justin Scott (6-1, 200, SO), Lee Ewigman (6-1, 200, SO), Bryan Fuller (5-11, 200, JR) round out the current depth at this position.

At CB, the Tigers will miss Michael Harden and Terrence Curry (assuming he can't get a hardship year), but return everyone else. The big question on everyone's mind is can senior Shirdonya Mitchell (5-11, 185) pick up the mental aspect of this position in time to be a force? This area is loaded with talented and experienced juniors and at least one of them needs to step up. Will it be AJ Kincade (5-11, 180), Calvin Washington (6-1, 190), or Marcus King (5-11, 185)? Brandon Massey will also be eligible and fighting for playing time as will RSFR Loreno Seymour. Junior Ryan Edwards (5-10, 190) provides depth and great special teams play, while Steve Redmond (verbal, 6-1.5/200/4.45) will be joining the depth from the current recruiting class if he doesn't redshirt.

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