Sean Weatherspoon (6'1, 235, senior)
2008: 155 tackles, 18.5 TFL, 5 sacks, 3 INTs (2 for TD), 2 FF, 7 PBR, 6 QBH
2007: 130 tackles, 9.5 TFL, 3 sacks, 2 FF, 1 FR, 8 PBR
2006: 17 tackles, 1.0 TFL
Missouri lost four games in 2008, about two more than expected. But it could have been six losses if not for Sean Weatherspoon, who plays like a Butkus Award winner against Big Ten teams. 'Spoon was amazing against Illinois to start the season and Northwestern to end it, racking up a combined 9 solo tackles, 17 assists, 3.5 TFL, 3 QBH's, 0.5 sacks (the one that effectively ended the Alamo Bowl), a pass breakup, and 2 INTs (including a pick six that effectively ended the Illinois game). For all of Mizzou's offensive success over the last two seasons, the heart and soul of the team has been a linebacker, and he will return to lead a newer, younger team in 2009. He is a 100% lock to be a captain.
'Spoon came to Mizzou underrated (two stars) and undersized (195 pounds), with offers only from Iowa State and Conference USA teams. He is the gold standard for all future diamonds in the rough.
His game is a perfect combination of brains, speed and power. And honestly, I don't know what else to say about him--it's all been said. He will lead a LB corps with as much athletic potential as a Mizzou LB unit has ever had...but will that potential translate into success?
Luke Lambert (6'3, 225, junior)
2008: 58 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 1 Sack, 1 FF, 1 FR, 1 PBR
2007: 32 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 1 sack, 1 FF
A junior-to-be from Brookfield, Lambert was one of the first commits of the 2007 recruiting class, and it was immediately impossible to keep him off the field. He was a backup most of his freshman year and even got to start the Cotton Bowl after Van Alexander had an equipment malfunction. He spent 2008 as basically a part-time starter--he was the third linebacker when Mizzou was in its base 4-3, but they spent a lot of time in a nickel defense with William Moore basically serving as the third LB.
There is nothing particularly amazing or overpowering about Lambert's game, and while that's probably causing me to underrate him a bit, he's really about where Brock Christopher was after two seasons in black and gold. Other LBs in this unit have all sorts of speed and aggression, but control is a bit of a problem. Lambert, on the other hand, reads, reacts, and doesn't get caught out of position. It's good to have that mix.
Will Ebner (6'1, 225, sophomore)
2008: 21 tackles, 3.0 TFL, 1 QBH
WOW are my expectations high for this guy. Will Ebner didn't play a single meaningful down in 2008, but he could not possibly have looked better in junk time. It's probably best to scale back the expectations until we know if he actually plays smart and fast against real players instead of third-stringers, but it's hard to do. He plays with his hair on fire and found himself in the backfield on just about every snap he played. But at the same time, he never got out of position and didn't (that I saw) miss a tackle.
I've already named Jacquies Smith the Next 'Spoon (i.e. the next "junk time to bigtime" freshman to sophomore transition guy), but really Ebner has as much claim to that title as anybody. If it turns out that he really is a smart, heady, fast-as-hell player ready to start for a major conference team, then this defense could be pretty good (though he can't play cornerback). If it turns out that he runs faster than he thinks, and he's out of position a lot, it could be more of a feast-or-famine unit. We'll see.
Andrew Gachkar (6'3, 220, junior)
2008: 28 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 1 PBR, 1 Missing Rib
2007: 16 tackles, 1 FF
First of all, I'd like to say that I really hope Ebner and Gachkar both turn into bigtime LBs, just so we can revisit the Velodrome nickname and set it into stone. Gachkar is faster than Ebner and seems to play a little more out-of-control (which has made him a fantastic guided missile on special teams the last two years), but he is the definition of perseverance and will be very easy to root for in '09 and beyond. As high as I am on Ebner, I should say that as long as he or Gach break through in '09, this LB corps could be great.
Jeff Gettys (6'3, 225, junior)
2008: 6 tackles, 1 INT for TD
Gettys is a walk-on-turned-scholarship-player who made the most of his major moment in the sun: he got himself a pick six in Q4 against Nevada. The junior from Houston, MO, likely won't see much PT in '09, but he's a good story, and I wanted to add him here.
Tyler Crane (6'3, 220, sophomore)
2007: 2 tackles at defensive end
I'll be honest--Crane is a total mystery. Missouri offered him early in the recruiting process, and he even played as a true freshman defensive end. But he couldn't put on any weight and was way too undersized to stay at DE, so he moved to LB and redshirted to learn the position.
What happens now? No idea. He could make a seamless transition and challenge for the third starting position behind 'Spoon and Lambert...or he could never quite grasp the position and end up transferring. Nothing's going to surprise me with him, but there's just no need to make a predicion. Instead I'll just admit that, while the kid looks like a stud athlete, I have absolutely no idea what to expect from him.
Joshua Tatum (6'0, 240, Junior, Oakland, CA)
So we've got two proven starters and at least two returnees fighting for the third starting spot. Where does Josh "Drederick" Tatum fit in? Good question. Tatum, the former USC Trojan and current 4-star JUCO transfer, has said all the right things about fighting for PT and making this defense better, could win the third starting spot or even steal away Lambert's starting spot if he's good enough...or he could fizzle out like other JUCO transfers. You never know what you're getting with JUCO guys, but...watch the film below and tell me you're not optimistic about his potential. There have been random, relatively anonymous questions about his heart and his work ethic, but we're not going there. If he is what he says he is, there's a chance that he takes this defense to a new level. If he's not, we've got better depth here than we have in previous years, so no big deal. No pressure, really, but it really would be a little disappointing to see things fail to work out for this kid.
Andrew Wilson (6'4, 230, Freshman, Peculiar, MO)
The latest Ray-Pec product to put on black & gold, Wilson is an interesting athlete who, as far as we know, could put on 15 pounds and become a DE, or fall into the Luke Lambert/Brock Christopher model of tall LB. That's really all I know about him, but we'll just say that Ray-Pec has been very good to us (Chase Coffman and Derrick Washington, anyone?), so just considering his high school alone, I'm optimistic about this guy.
Adam Burton (6'2, 225, Freshman, Lee's Summit, MO)
An relatively unknown quantity after tearing his ACL as a junior and missing 1/3 of his senior season to relatively unexplained suspension, Burton is a good-sized kid from a successful school...and that's about all I know.
Ronnie Wingo (6'3, 215, St. Louis, MO)
Maybe you've heard of him?
2008 vs 2009
Again, I really don't want to paint too rose-colored a picture here, but as with the defensive ends, I'm really optimistic about this group of linebackers. There's no guarantee that Luke Lambert will be anything more than average to above-average over the next two seasons, and there's no guarantee that any of the others will amount to much, but in a young team looking for a new identity, you want two things: 1) potential, and 2) options. This unit has both, and if any of a number of players can come close to duplicating Brock Christopher's stat line, this unit could be as good or maybe better than that of the 2008 unit.
2009 Mizzou LBs on the YouTubes
Sean Weatherspoon is a man
A 'Spoon Interview
Another 'Spoon Interview
'Spoon dominates Q4 against Illinois
Back when Will Ebner was just a Youtube sensation...
Josh Tatum in action