The Missouri defense was a much-maligned unit in 2008. The Tigers averaged giving up over 27 points and 400 yards per game, 286 of which was through the air. Depending on who is talking, these struggles originated with poor coaching, weak secondary play, lack of a consistent pass rush or some mixture of the three.
Primarily charged with fixing the lack of a pass rush will be the defensive line. Gone from the 2008 starting line-up are Stryker Sulak, Ziggy Hood and Tommy Chavis.
Senior Jaron Baston (6'1", 305 lbs.) is the lone returning starter from that 2008 defensive line. Baston has shown steady improvement from the time he started to see significant playing time in 2007. He ended last season with 49 tackles, eight tackles for loss, two fumble recoveries, a sack and a memorable interception against Kansas.
Sophomore Domonique Hamilton (6'6", 290) is the most likely candidate to back-up Baston. Hamilton received playing time during the 2008 season as a redshirt freshman and has the potential to be a force in the middle.
Looking to play next to Baston in the middle will be senior Andy Maples (6'4", 305) and sophomore Terrell Resonno (6'6", 295). Resonno, a Jefferson City native, would seem to have a leg up on Maples heading into the spring given the increased playing time he received as the year wore on. Much like Hamilton, Resonno continues to grow into his position (he was listed at 250 lbs. coming out of high school in 2007) and should improve with more experience under his belt.
As mentioned above, the Tigers lose their two starting defensive ends from last season in Stryker Sulak and Tommy Chavis. Despite the defensive struggles last season, Sulak managed an impressive 10.5 sacks from his right end position. On the other side, Chavis battled injuries all season and managed only three sacks while providing little pressure.
Senior Brian Coulter (6'4", 250) has the inside track on one of those starting spots as he started to show glimpses of his potential after fully recovering from a sprained ankle and adjusting to the Missouri defense last season.
Jacquies Smith split time between linebacker and defensive end in high school and earned his way into the defensive end rotation last season in his first full year at the position. Although he only recorded one sack in 2008, Jacquies has the speed teams look for in an elite pass rusher. Jacquies' success in 2009 will depend on how he harnesses his talents and improves his technique.
Pushing Jacquies for that starting spot will be Aldon Smith. Aldon was a late arriver to the practice field last year because of clearinghouse issues, but made quite the impression on those in attendance for Alamo Bowl practices. Aldon is a very gifted athlete who excelled at tight end, defensive end and power forward for Raytown High School. With a full spring and fall practice schedule in front of him, expect Aldon to make a serious push for playing time in 2009.
With Mr. and Mr. Smith battling for one starting defensive end spot and Coulter seemingly locked in at the other, the question remains as to who will back-up Coulter to start the season.
Other defensive ends currently on campus will be redshirt freshman Marcus Malbrough and a talented group of freshman including Sheldon Richardson (6'4", 270), Terrance Lloyd (6'3", 215 lbs.) and Brayden Burnett (6'3", 240 lbs.). It is yet to be seen if redshirt sophomore-to-be Chris Earnhardt will be back with the team after being absent for much of the 2008 season.
InsideMizzou's Prediction: Aldon Smith and Resonno show up big in the spring and fall and earn starting spots next to Baston and Coulter. The super-hyped freshman Richardson backs-up Coulter and becomes a steady, if not spectacular, performer. Jacquies Smith and Hamilton also log significant time as the Tiger's seven or eight-man rotation improves its struggling pass rush from 2008.