It has been duly noted this offseason that Missouri will be losing quite a few players on both sides of the ball in 2009. The defense itself, which was highly criticized in 2008, will need to replace seven starters from a year ago. With all of the that will need to be made before September 5th, one position that will look very familiar will be the linebacker spot. Two of the three starters from last season will be on the field again including senior All-American hopeful, Sean Weatherspoon.
Weatherspoon was a standout for the Tigers during his junior season, earning unanimous 1st-Team All-Big XII honors as well as 3rd-Team All-American from the Associated Press. As the Faurot Field faithful shout after every tackle, "Spoon" recorded a team leading 155 tackles including 18.5 for a loss and 5 sacks. Sean also had 3 interceptions, returning two of them for touchdowns.
For the second year in a row, Weatherspoon will step in as the emotional leader for the Mizzou defense. From his weakside linebacker spot he is able to control the tempo of a game, lay some huge hits, and still supply very good pass coverage, as shown by his team leading 7 passes broken up in 2008. His ability to consistently show up game after game, especially for the important ones, is another huge bonus. During the Alamo Bowl, Weatherspoon notched 17 tackles, earning defensive MVP honors for the game. He opted not to enter the NFL draft early along with teammate Jeremy Maclin, and Spoon's presence this year will be greatly appreciated.
There is not much depth in the weakside position after Sean Weatherspoon. Redshirt freshmen Cornell Ellis and Joe Plevel are next on the depth chart respectively, followed by sophomore Tyler Crane, who took a redshirt in 2008. Weatherspoon, however, will certainly be starting every game for the third straight season, and reserves will not likely see much playing time.
The middle linebacker position is a position which will be interesting to follow all year. In 2008, Brock Christopher started that spot in all 14 games, but now that he is gone, Luke Lambert can finally move to his natural spot. Lambert started on the strong side for 10 of the 14 games last year. The four that he did not start were games that Missouri started with 5 defensive backs, and only 2 linebackers.
Lambert recorded 58 tackles and forced one fumble while making a name for himself as a run stopper in his sophomore season. Now as a junior, it can be expected that he provides even more from the middle of the field. Luke will also be expected to provide leadership as one of the few returning starters and help teach those on the depth chart behind him.
Of those players behind luke on the depth chart, there are two big names. Will Ebner played in all 14 games last season, providing big hit after big hit, and sparking the defense. Josh Tatum is a transfer from the City College of San Francisco, where he played two years after originally joining the Trojans of the university of Southern California. After a knee injury hindered him during a redshirt year at USC, Tatum opted to go the junior college route before transferring back into the Football Bowl Subdivision. Both of these players are very good and could probably start on several other teams, however Lambert is a more proven Tiger at this point in time.
To make matters more interesting, both Ebner and Tatum had awesome springs. Will was everywhere on the field, constantly throwing his body around and laying people out. Josh was everything to expect and more, as he used his speed and power to dazzle onlookers. It will be very interesting this season to see how coach Steckel will fit all three of these players onto the field in 2009.
The third and final linebacker spot will be one without a returning starter. Andrew Gachkar and Jeff Gettys will both be making one final push during the next few weeks to earn the title of opening day starter. Gachker has spent most of his time in the Tiger uniform on the special teams, where in 2008 he marked 28 tackles. He had two ribs removed before the 2008 season due to a blood clot, however, he is back to full strength. Gettys also was a special teams regular last year, however when he was able to see time on defense, he made the best of it. After the Nevada game got out of hand and Gettys got on the field, he intercepted a pass and returned it for 27 yards.
It will be an exciting year from the linebackers in 2009. They are set with a fan favorite and All-American hopeful on the weakside, and awesome competition brewing between three great players in the middle, and two inexperienced players fighting for a starting spot on the strongside. Personally, I am most excited to see what Junior College transfer Josh Tatum can do, but we have three great story lines to follow this fall, and I for one cannot wait to see how they all play out.
Position Preview: Linebacker
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