Yesterday we looked at the offense for the 2009 Mizzou football team, but today we move to the most important part of a successful team, the defense. Although the offense didn't perform as many thought they would (too many mistakes), the defense definitely held the Tigers back from making any kind of national championship run that they were thinking about before the season. Speed is the name of the game for the defense this season, but how will they utilize that speed?
Tommy Chavis and Stryker Sulak combined for 13.5 sacks and 21.5 tackles for loss last year, but their presence in the run game was not there, so the defense was easy to exploit. This year, the Tigers have a trio of well-rounded, athletic defensive ends that should be able to give support in the running game as well as making the opposing quarterback run for his life. Jacquies Smith, Aldon Smith and Brian Coulter will most likely rotate at the end position and each one of them is physical at the point of attack, yet has a dash of speed to go along with it. Expect a lot of good things in both the passing and rushing game from these guys this season.
Returning to start at defensive tackle will be senior and newly christened captain Jaron Baston. The Blue Springs, MO product burst on to the scene last year with his tenacity and fiery attitude. His non-stop motor will be a key part of the interior defensive line this year. Sophomore Terrell Ressono, a 6-5 product from Jefferson City, will occupy the other defensive tackle spot for the Tigers this year. He won the job over sophomore Dominique Hamilton, but I expect Hamilton to see some significant time in the rotation as well this season. Both players know how to play on the inside, but could struggle in getting to the quarterback. As long as they can clog up the middle of the opposing offensive line, they will do their job.
What is there to say about Sean Weatherspoon that hasn't already been said? The guy is a stud and should be an All-American when this season is in the books. He will be the vocal leader of the team as well as providing great tackling ability to go along with his ability to drop into coverage and help out the passing game. Junior Luke Lambert will return to start in the middle a year after performing solidly as a first year starter. The Brookfield, MO product will be a key part of Mizzou's attempt to stop the run up the middle this year. Andrew Gachkar will be the lone new starter for the linebacking crew, replacing Brock Christopher as a starter. Gachkar impressed coaches with his speed during spring practices and was a no-brainer pick to start this year. He should be able to cover a lot of ground defending the pass this year. His instincts could use some work, but that will come as he becomes used to starting at the college level.
Donovan Bonner is a true freshman that could end up being Mizzou's next spectacular player on defense when his career is finished. The former high school safety moved to linebacker this off-season and has stood out to nearly all observers during practices in August. He will only get better as he gets acclimated to the linebacker position, but he has shown enough to avoid a redshirt from Gary Pinkel and the coaching staff. Will Ebner is another key backup that could see time in the rotation this season. This sophomore showed off his hard-hitting ability throughout practices and earned the most improved linebacker after spring practices concluded. This group is pretty young, but they could be very good very soon.
This is the area that killed the Tigers last year. William Moore didn't perform the way that Tigers fans though he could last year and the rest of the group really wasn't that talented. The Tigers only return one starter to this group, so that could actually be viewed as a needed change. The lone returning starter is junior cornerback Carl Gettis. To be honest, Gettis really didn't live up to the hype last year and was a liability in the passing game. We all know he has the talent he showed in his freshman season, now he just needs to be able to find it against the top receivers of the Big XII. Kevin Rutland earned the battle for the starting corner spot opposite of Gettis after a tight battle with Trey Hobson. Rutland is a physical player, but how good are his coverage skills? All he needs to do for the secondary this year is knock receivers off of their routes and be a scrappy cornerback and that will probably do the job. Hobson really impressed me during spring practices, but he obviously fell off during August, losing his shot at being a starter. He was the most physical corner that I saw and I described him as "the guy you would hate to line up against" for the Tigers. He will definitely be useful when the Tigers go to the nickel defense.
A year after seeing considerable playing time and even a couple of starts, Kenji Jackson is now the man at free safety. Jackson was probably the biggest surprise last year, producing starter like plays in limited time as a true freshman. He hasn't failed to back up those performances with his play in practice this season either. The Mansfield, Texas product looks like the real deal and will be a physical force as a last line of defense this year. Hardy Ricks won the starting job for good when Jarrell Harrison got injured late in the summer, but I have a feeling he would have won it despite the injury. The senior showed some great hard hitting ability throughout his career, but the Tigers need a safety valve back there this season, so hopefully Ricks will be able to show some improved covering ability. This is a pretty solid pair of safeties that should be an improvement over the duo of an injured William Moore and Justin Garrett.
Jake Harry IV became the punter last season, and performed pretty well for a first year starter. He averaged just over 40 yards per punt last year and had 10 of his 26 punts downed inside the 20-yard line. Harry has looked even better during the off-season and should be the most reliable member of the special teams.
I believe the defense is improved from last year's collection of seniors because of their overall speed and physicality. In order to keep up with the offenses of the Big XII, the secondary must be able to cancel out the top players of the opposing teams to make them more one dimensional. I don't know if this group has that ability, but I can say I am more confident in them than I was in last year's group. You will see more pressure put on quarterbacks this season from the great trio of pass rushers and you will also see an improved run defense. Let's see what these guys have in the game against Illinois. Football is here…