Heading into the spring, Missouri appeared to be pretty well set at defensive end, but the expectation was that the Tigers would scramble to fill the void left by DT Sheldon Richardson’s early departure to the NFL.
During the spring, the defensive line was at times dominant, and made life difficult for Missouri’s QBs. There were several players responsible for that success along the defensive line, and I’ll take a look at how each player performed this spring.
Junior DE Kony Ealy had a very good spring, although he missed quite a bit of time due to an illness in the family. There were times this spring when Ealy appeared unblockable, although when I spoke to him following the spring, he expressed disappointment that he had missed so much practice time, and he appeared determined to try to make up for what he viewed as a lag in his development by working extra hard this summer and during fall camp.
In Ealy’s absence, and all throughout the spring, sophomore DE Shane Ray spent a lot of time in the backfield. His speed off the edge was too much for Missouri’s offensive tackles, and Ray was recognized as Missouri’s Most Improved Defensive Lineman. Ray bring more than speed to the field, but he does bring plenty of speed. His intensity is contagious, and evident in his pursuit of the football from snap to whistle.
Senior DE Michael Sam had a great spring! He was very productive, and he wreaked havoc for the Missouri offense on a daily basis throughout the spring. Sam is another one who has taken it to another level. With essentially three starting defensive ends, Ealy often moves inside in passing situations, as the Tigers play a package that features all three starting DEs on the field together.
“I’m really pleased up front on defense,” said Coach Pinkel following the spring. “Michael Sam’s had a great, great spring! Shane Ray’s been doing outstanding!”
Those three starters are backed up by fifth-year senior DE Brayden Burnett and junior DE Markus Golden . This spring, Burnett played as well as I’ve seen him, and Golden displayed a nose for the football, as well as uncommon strength.
Another DE who had a good spring is RSF DE Rickey Hatley. When he arrived, there was some question of whether Hatley would remain at DE, or move inside. It appears that Hatley will remain at DE, where this spring, he really showed the ability to run. Hatley has made good improvement during his first year at Missouri, and it looks to me like he’ll just continue to develop.
Junior DT Matt Hoch, who was the starter all of last season at one defensive tackle spot, took a huge step forward this spring. His dominance this spring was a big reason for the overall success of the defensive line. Hoch has gotten bigger, stronger, and faster, while decreasing his percentage of body fat. He looks lean, and he appears to be quicker, as well. Play in and play out, all spring, Hoch was a factor in the middle for the Tigers.
“Matt Hoch, I mean, he’s just a different player,” said Coach Pinkel, referring to Hoch’s increased maturity and the work that he’s done in the offseason, comparing his improvement to what we saw from Sheldon Richardson between 2011 and 2012. “Matt Hoch has really done a tremendous job!”
Junior DT Lucas Vincent began the spring as the starter alongside Hoch, and he played well enough to retain his starting status throughout the spring. While he wasn’t as consistently dominant this spring as was Hoch, Vincent played very well, and he has really raised his level of play.
Just behind Vincent is RSF Harold Brantley, who challenged Vincent this spring, but was unable to move ahead of the junior. Brantley is uniquely talented, quick, unusually strong, and very explosive off the football. Quite frankly, I expected to see Brantley move ahead of Vincent this spring. It was a very good competition, and one that remains very close heading into the summer. I think that’s a positive, in that the Tigers now have three starter-quality guys inside.
Senior Marvin Foster played the best football of his career this spring. And, he emerged from the spring as Missouri’s number four DT.
DE 52 Michael Sam 6'3" 255 (S)
55 Brayden Burnett 6'2" 245 (S)
95 Rickey Hatley 6’4” 260 (RSF)
64 Keric Lickerman 6'3" 235 (So)
DT 89 Matt Hoch 6'5" 295 (J)
94 Marvin Foster 6'1" 300 (S)
50 Evan Winston 6'3" 300 (RSF)
51 Steven Mack 6’0” 245 (J)
96 Lucas Vincent 6'2" 305 (J)
90 Harold Brantley 6’2” 300 (RSF)
99 David Butler 6’4” 280 (J)
93 Justin Grava 6’3” 260 (RSF)
47 Kony Ealy 6'5" 275 (J)
56 Shane Ray 6'3" 245 (So) 33 Markus Golden 6’3” 262 (J)
58 Ben Eskelson 6’1” 230 (J)