Following the 2011 season, and the graduation of three starters along the defensive line, Missouri entered the off-season faced with the rebuilding of its defensive line. The Tigers' two returning starters along the defensive line, DE Brad Madison and DT Sheldon Richardson, each missed all of the spring while they recovered from off-season shoulder surgery. Heading into fall camp, both are fully recovered. They will anchor a defensive line that figures to be thoroughly tested during Missouri's inaugural season in the SEC. And it's my belief that if they can stay healthy, the Tigers' defensive line will be up to the test.
Madison is a senior, who has played in 38 games, including 14 starts, over three seasons for Missouri, and has garnered 58 total tackles, including 12 sacks and 3 forced fumbles. Richardson, a redshirt junior who arrived at Missouri last August, played in all 13 games a year ago, and started 2 games, while making 37 tackles, including 2 sacks.
Entering fall camp, Madison and Richardson will be joined by projected starters DE Michael Sam and DT Matt Hoch. Sam is a junior who has seen plenty of action for Missouri over the past two seasons, having played in 26 games, including one start last season. He's amassed 53 total tackles, including 10 tackles-for-loss, and 2 forced fumbles. He's also picked off a pair of passes.
Perhaps the biggest development on the entire team this off-season was the emergence of Matt Hoch, who moved inside to defensive tackle. Defensive line coach, Craig Kuligowski, called Hoch's play "dominant" this spring, and Hoch was named one of the team's most improved players. Coach Pinkel talked about how quickly Hoch had adjusted to playing "in the box".
"There's a lot of stuff happening in there," said Coach Pinkel, talking about Hoch's move to the inside. "But, he's a big, strong, competitive, smart athlete! He's got a great future in there."
Projected Defensive Line Depth
Sophomore DE Kony Ealy saw a lot of action in 2011, when he garnered 13 tackles, including 3 TFLs, and a sack. During the spring, Ealy worked as a starter, and this fall, the athletic Ealy may very well be included as a third starting defensive end.
Lucas Vincent is a sophomore who saw action in every game last year, and he really came on toward the end of the season, as he finished the 2011 campaign with 11 total tackles. Vincent spent much of the spring working with the first-team defense, and he performed well. Vincent will open camp on the sidelines, as he is recovering from a pectoral muscle strain. He's expected to return to action during fall camp, which will give the interior defensive line a big boost.
Three veteran DTs will begin fall camp listed with the second and/or third team defense, including seniors Jimmy Burge and George White, and junior Marvin Foster. All three have seen game action, with Burge having started 6 games in 2010.
RSF DE Shane Ray is coming off of an impressive off-season. He's gotten bigger, stronger, and faster with his work in the weight room, and he's a relentless competitor. He was very impressive this spring with a speed rush off of the edge. And, he's just going to continue to improve.
"Shane Ray has done a great job," said Coach Kuligowski. "All during the year, last season, he was down there on the scout team, and he was giving us fits. And, he really got better this spring!"
Junior DE Brayden Burnett will likely begin fall camp working with the third unit. Burnett has seen considerable playing time. In 2011, he garnered 15 tackles, including 4 TFLs, and 2.5 sacks, and he was credited with a forced fumble. Burnett missed a lot of time this spring, but this fall, he will challenge Ray for a spot on the two-deep depth chart.
I'm looking forward to seeing a pair of true freshmen defensive tackles on the practice field, in Harold Brantley and Evan Winston. Of the two, Brantley appears to be closer to the requisite size, and he could possibly challenge for playing time this year.
Another true freshman that I'm looking forward to seeing on the practice field is DE Rickey Hatley. Hatley and sophomore walk-on DE Derrion Thomas provide some depth at the position, and each will be competing to move up the Depth Chart this fall.
There's talent along the defensive line for Missouri, and if the top guys can remain healthy, the Tigers have a chance to be pretty good up front. The top three DTs, as well as the top three DEs, are quality players. During fall camp, we'll be watching to see who will step up to provide additional depth on the inside, as well as on the outside.
2012 Defensive Line Overview: Remaining healthy and finding some quality depth along the interior of the defensive line will be key for the Tigers this pre-season camp.
Richardson, Hoch and Vincent (when healthy) provide a solid rotation inside at defensive tackle. However, it would be great if another player were able to step forward and make themselves a contributor able to at least spell the starters for a few plays or series to help prevent getting wore down.
Harold Brantley is a newcomer that eyes will be on along with veterans Burge, White and Marvin Foster.
There is much better depth at defensive end and we could see a return to using 3 D-ends along the line in passing situations.