For much of 2012, Missouri's defensive line performed well, and was an integral part of an overall improved defense. A major ingredient of the Tigers improved defensive line was the play of junior DT Sheldon Richardson, who finished the season with a whopping 75 total tackles, most among SEC interior linemen, which included 10.5 tackles-for-loss, and 4 sacks. He also registered 7 QB hurries, and 3 pass-break-ups, while forcing 3 fumbles, and recovering a pair of fumbles. He also blocked a kick, and after the season, he was named second-team All-SEC.
Richardson was a disruptive force up front for Missouri the likes of which the Tigers haven't had for several years. He was a game-changer who took up residency in opposing backfields. He made plays all over the field, despite the fact that he was double teamed for much of the season. He was the big reason for the improved play in 2012 of Missouri's defensive line. Yet in mid November, when Missouri faced Syracuse in a game that the Tigers had to win to gain bowl-eligibility, Richardson was at home, having been suspended for violating team rules. The Tigers failed to make a bowl game, and in late November, Richardson announced that he'll be entering this year's NFL Draft.
Richardson's inside dominance helped Missouri's defensive ends enjoy very productive seasons. Sophomore DE Kony Ealy began to realize some of his immense potential, as he recorded 37 total tackles, including 10 TFLs, and 3.5 sacks. He also registered 5 QBHs, 7 PBUs, and forced 1 fumble. He made 10 starts, and played in every game. At times, Ealy flirted with dominance. His position coach, Craig Kuligowski, told me toward the end of the season that as good as he was this year, he expects Ealy to be even better next year.
Junior DE Michael Sam was another player who was better than he had been the year before, and he ending up starting 9 of the 12 games in which he played. Sam finished with 22 total tackles, including 7 TFLs, and a team-leading 4.5 sacks, to go along with 4 QBHs, 2 forced fumbles, and 1 fumble recovery.
Senior DE Brad Madison enjoyed another good season after having struggled through an injury-plagued 2011. Madison made 5 starts, playing in all 12 games, and finished a very productive campaign with 18 tackles, 7 TFLs, and 4 sacks. He also registered 2 QBHs, and forced 1 fumble.
RSF DE Shane Ray forced his way into the rotation this season. He was just too good to keep him on the sidelines. He played in all 12 games, and on the season, the rapidly improving Tiger legacy made 16 total tackles, including 2.5 TFLs. He registered 3 QBHs, and recovered a fumble. Ray is a hard-worker, and a high-motor defender. He's just going to get better.
Sophomore DT Matt Hoch started all 12 games for Missouri this season. Hoch was a stalwart in the middle for the Tigers, after making the move to DT last winter. He made 36 total tackles, including 4.5 TFLs, and 2 sacks. He was also credited with 3 QBHs.
Senior DT Jimmy Burge started the Syracuse game in place of Richardson. He played in all 12 games, and finished with 15 tackles, including 2.5 TFLs, and 1.5 sacks. He was also credited with 1 QBH, and he forced 1 fumble.
Sophomore DT Lucas Vincent played in all 12 games, and made 3 tackles on the season.
Junior DT Marvin Foster played in 10 games and made 8 tackles.
Junior DE Brayden Burnett played an important role on special teams, as did LB-turned-DE Markus Golden. Burnett played in 12 games and recorded 6 tackles. Golden played in all 12 games, recorded 10 tackles, and forced 1 fumble.
Now-departed walk-on DE Derrion Thomas played in the season opener and made 1 tackle.
For much of 2012, Missouri's defensive line performed well, and was an integral part of an overall improved defense. It will be a real test however to replace the departing Richardson in 2013