2011 Missouri Football Preview: Defensive Ends

Photos via Bill Carter.

2011 Missouri Football Preview
Analysis: Dave Matter | Michael Atchison
Opponents: Miami (Ohio) | Arizona State | Western Illinois | Oklahoma | Kansas State | Iowa State | Oklahoma State | Texas A&M
Unit Walkthroughs: Quarterback (Bonus) | Running Backs | Wide Receivers (Bonus) | Tight Ends | Offensive Line

It is amazing to think about Missouri’s recent success with recruiting and/or developing defensive ends. In 2006, a hip injury to Brian Smith almost completely wrecked the Missouri defense, kick-starting a significant defensive slide over the last portion of the season. But in 2010, when Aldon Smith suffered a stress fracture and missed a series of games, the Mizzou defense somehow got better. Smith’s injury meant that by the end of the year, the Tigers had four ends they trusted significantly, and a good portion of Missouri’s 10-win campaign can be attributed to Mizzou’s success on the ends.

#3 Jacquies Smith (6’4, 255, Sr., Dallas, Texas)

Just call Jacquies Smith the Cris Carter of collegiate defensive ends. All he does is make big plays. He averaged barely over two tackles per game in 2010, but almost half of them went for a loss, and he had a hand in either forcing or recovering four fumbles. Plus, he broke up three passes and blocked a kick. In his Mizzou career, Smith has not yet logged even 100 tackles, but he has scored on a fumble return, interception return and, in 2009, a touchdown reception.

More than any other player, Jacquies really stepped up in Aldon Smith’s mid-season absence. Five of his ten tackles for loss came in those three games against Miami (Ohio), Colorado and Texas A&M. Smith is well-rounded and athletic, and entering his senior season, the final challenge will be for Jacquies to show up in every game. He had the tendency to disappear at times, and with Mizzou’s incredible end depth, that wasn’t too much of a problem. But if he wants to keep his spot atop the depth chart, he will need to continue to develop in this regard.

His high school tape displayed an incredible athlete who relied upon a dazzling blend of agility and quickness rather than on technique and strength. He’s steadily grown into being a "true" defensive end, and it really is a testament to both the program’s coaching AND recruiting that Smith went from being the "high upside athlete" of the ends as a freshman to the "steadying presence" (consistency notwithstanding) as a senior.

#57 Brad Madison (6’4, 255, Jr., Bethany, Mo.)

The Missouri coaching staff frequently talks about how it will try to find guys who will "practice well," then worry about positions later. For Brad Madison, that meant entering the Missouri program as a potential offensive lineman, following in the footsteps of his brother, Ryan. But upon seeing Brad’s slighter build, and more importantly, his athleticism, Missouri made the unorthodox move to flip him to defensive end, a move that paid major dividends for Missouri in 2010.

Madison was another all-or-nothing player in 2010 (42 percent of his tackles were for loss), but with a blend of size, power and agility, he hinted at every-down potential. Madison’s contribution was the prime reason Missouri was able to withstand the short absence of Aldon Smith, and if Madison lives up to his potential, Mizzou’s defensive line could reach yet another level. His first step should continue to be one of his biggest assets. Plus, he has an uncanny ability to get hands on passes and he looks absolutely comfortable in space, which could open up the zone blitz for Dave Steckel in 2011. The main concern heading into late-August: he is currently out with a shoulder sprain.

#52 Michael Sam (6’3, 245, So., Hitchcock, Texas)

Michael Sam seemed to be the roughest of diamonds pulled from Texas, and though there’s still cutting and polishing to be done, he showed the early makings of a diamond in 2010. Though most of his production came early in the season, he’s developing a reputation as a bit of a disruptive force. With players like Aldon Smith and Stryker Sulak, Missouri fans became accustomed to great all-around play from defensive ends, including the capability to both attack and make plays downfield. The next step in Sam’s progression is to round out beyond the "occasionally disruptive" label. As a sophomore, he’s got a lot of growth ahead and a lot of time for said growth.

#97 Kony Ealy (6’5, 250, RS Fr., New Madrid, Mo.)

Television announcers went out of their way to praise Kony Ealy during a redshirt year in 2010, which means that the Missouri coaching staff went of of its way to praise Ealy in production meetings. At the Black and Gold Game last Spring, everyone finally understood why. Ealy was the most disruptive player on the field, working in the backfield with regularity and showcasing the athleticism Missouri fans were promised in recruiting. If he’s utilized properly, Missouri may have found the Big 12’s next preeminent pass rusher in Ealy.

#55 Brayden Burnett (6’3, 255, So., Southlake, Texas)

Burnett, a Southlake Carroll product, seemed to present solid all-around ability last spring, but he was unable to keep up with the upside of guys like Madison and Sam. Coaches have raved about his motor, but he may need more than that to disrupt the order of playing time ahead of him. By all accounts, he has done well in August practices. But with such depth, he may need to turn the dial to "tremendous" to see the field.

#89 Matt Hoch (6’5, 260, RS Fr., Harlan, Iowa)

Missouri made the "offensive line to defensive end" switch with Madison, so why not try a similar "tight end to defensive end" move with Hoch and see if lightning strikes twice? The transition marks an abrupt end to Missouri’s H-Back experiment, as fans were looking to Hoch to represent a shift in offensive philosophy. Instead, Hoch must now carve out a niche at a loaded end position.

INCOMING

Shane Ray (6’4, 220, Fr., Shawnee Mission, Kan., Rivals 3-Star)

The son of former Mizzou end Wendell Ray, Shane is explosive off the line of scrimmage, uses his hands extremely well for a young end, has a frame to grow into, and is a vicious tackler. But perhaps best of all, he enters the program with zero immediate expectation. Thanks to Missouri’s depth at end, Ray is free to develop at his own pace.

2011 vs 2010

It is dangerous to assume that a unit will be as good after losing a first-round talent like Aldon Smith, but if the three primary returnees -- Jacquies Smith, Brad Madison and Michael Sam -- continue the explosive growth they showed this past season, then it is at least a possibility. If Kony Ealy shows a good portion of the upside at which he’s hinted, or if players like Brayden Burnett or Matt Hoch force the coaches into some playing time, then the depth of options here will be as strong as any in the new-look Big 12. Improvement from the defensive ends is not guaranteed, but neither is regression in Smith’s absence, which, in and of itself, is extremely encouraging.

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