In 2010, the Missouri Tigers will return all but one of their LBs from 2009. Because the veteran LBs have learned to play multiple positions within Missouri's line-backing scheme, several of the Tigers' returning LBs have the potential to be lining up this spring at one of two or more positions. This allows Missouri to get their best LBs on the field, and provides for better depth at each position.
At the beginning of spring practice, expect to see senior Andrew Gachkar 6'3" 235, junior Will Ebner 6'1" 230, and sophomore Zaviar Gooden 6'2" 225 listed with the first unit. Senior Luke Lambert 6'3" 235 may be listed as a co-starter with Ebner in the middle, or one of those two may be listed 2nd at MLB.
Sophomore Donovan Bonner will likely begin spring practice listed on the second unit, most likely at the WLB where he was listed, practiced, and played sparingly in 2009. At the beginning of spring practice, the final spot on the two-deep will probably be occupied by either junior Tyler Crane 6'3" 230 or senior Josh Tatum 6'1 235.
Gachkar is the Tigers' leading returning tackler from 2009, with 80 total tackles, 3 sacks, 3 fumble recoveries, a forced fumble, and a blocked kick. He's played primarily at SLB, but saw some game action at WLB during the latter part of the season. Will Ebner registered 78 total tackles, 3.5 sacks, 1 PBU, 1 forced fumble, and 1 fumble recovery. While he knows the outside positions, he'll probably stay in the middle where he was very productive, especially against the run.
The ultra-talented Zaviar Gooden really came on in the second half of 2009, and saw increased playing time, registering 30 total tackles, 1 PBU, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery. Stardom is expected for Gooden, and 2010 should bring its advent for the LB who was chosen by his teammates to wear #25. Lambert began 2009 as the starting MLB through the first 6 games, during which he recorded 20 total tackles, before suffering a season-ending injury. He's the most experienced of Missouri's LBs, and should be fully recovered in time for spring.
In 2009, Bonner played primarily on special teams, while recording 9 total tackles. He will challenge for a starting job, and will also continue to be a stalwart on the coverage teams. Crane registered 4 total tackles in 2009, playing primarily on special teams. He's spent time practicing at all three LB positions the past two seasons, after seeing the field in 2007 at DE.
Tatum came to Missouri last January from junior college with two years to play two, meaning he had already used a red-shirt year. Because he spent the entire 2009 season injured, following back surgery, he would in all likelihood qualify for an additional 6th year of eligibility through a medical hardship provision should he choose to pursue that avenue.
The real question about Tatum is his health, and his full recovery from the surgery and the missed time. Once he's fully recovered, this talented LB ought to be able to shoot up the depth chart and find his way onto the field in 2010. He's one of many Tigers that I'll have my eye on during the spring.
Among those returning LBs who will likely begin spring ball listed on the 3rd team is RSF Andrew Wilson 6'3" 230. RSF Adam Burton 6'2" 235, RSF Michael Brennan 6'3" 210, and senior Jeff Gettys 6'3" 235 are additional candidates to begin the spring as third-teamers. Wilson is expected to move inside to MLB for spring ball, and either Tatum or Crane will begin the spring on the 3rd unit.