2012 Missouri Walkthrough: Linebackers

Photos via Bill Carter.

Previous Walkthroughs
Quarterbacks

Running Backs

Wide Receivers

Tight Ends

Offensive Tackles

Offensive Guards/Centers

Defensive Ends
Defensive Tackles

At first glance, Missouri’s 2012 linebacker corps appears to have all of the depth that the defensive line (or at least, the defensive tackle position) lacks. Three proven starters return, along with at least three players for whom expectations have been set rather high in previous years’ practice reports. And best of all, the skill sets for many will almost be better suited in the SEC than in the spread-happy Big 12. This unit is a nice mix of hard hitters and speed guys, one with upside to match its depth.

Zaviar Gooden (6’2, 230, Sr., Pflugerville, TX)

2009: 25.5 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 1 PBU, 1 FF, 1 FR
2010: 67.5 tackles, 7.5 TFL (3 sacks), 2 INT, 5 PBU, 1 FF, 2 PBU
2011: 67.0 tackles, 6.0 TFL (1 sack), 2 INT, 4 PBU, 1 Blocked Kick

The Beef: Zaviar Gooden had what everyone thought was a pretty solid year in 2010, and repeated it almost exactly in 2011 … and we all came away disappointed. For a young man with a great size/speed combination, much was predicted for him coming into the season, and I dare say he did not quite deliver. If he improves upon his stats of the last two years in his final year and becomes the all-conference type of linebacker we thought he was going to be this season, Mizzou will be in pretty solid shape.

But it will be important to remember this (at least important to me). IF Mizzou DT’s are not able to get off their blockers at the point of attack, the LB’s are really going to be counted upon to come up and make plays in the gaps that get created. Whereas Mizzou had often times been running a 4-2-5 due to the air raid that other teams in the B12 used, I really do anticipate us coming back to more of a standard 4-3 set up. The LB’s (where we are pretty solid) and the safeties (yet to be determined) may become very important positions for us as we no longer need to stop people from scoring in under two minutes, but may need to stop them from scoring in 6-8 minutes.

RPT: Missouri fans’ knowledge of Gooden’s legendary measurables may only work against him in the court of public opinion. He has continued to be a sound, solid defensive presence, but his lack of ascendancy into the stratospheric realm has clouded this fact. Missouri can afford for Gooden to be quiet. It can’t afford for him to be invisible. And if you buy into the notion that a new conference means a new style of play, Gooden is going to have his opportunities.

Andrew Wilson (6’3, 230, Jr., Peculiar, MO)

2010: 33.0 tackles, 0.5 TFL (0.5 sacks)
2011: 72.5 tackles, 9.5 TFL (0.5 sacks), 1 FF

Bill C.: The state of Missouri produces a varying amount of top-level talent from year to year, but recently it seems to give Mizzou one rock solid, 6-foot-3, 230-pound, future-starter linebacker in every class. Luke Lambert. Van Alexander. Brock Christopher. Andrew Wilson. Michael Scherer and Donavin Newsom in 2012. Joe Burkett and, hopefully, a couple more in 2013.

Wilson was asked to do a bit more than expected in each of the last two seasons when first Luke Lambert, then Will Ebner, was lost for the season. And while serving as a decent tackling-machine linebacker (all tackles, nothing else) in 2010, he was an outstanding playmaker, and brutally hard hitter, in 2011. He should fit in just fine in the SEC.

The Beef: What a revelation Andrew Wilson was last year, and what a bigger revelation it is to see that he will just be a junior next year. I really do not recall a game where Wilson wasn’t all over the field, or at least seemed like it. Wilson certainly supported the run quite well this year, and it would really be nice to add some QB pressure at times, though it rarely seemed like when Steckel brought pressure that it included Wilson.

RPT: Missouri was prepared to miss its Boom King in Will Ebner last year, then Andrew Wilson said "F*** it" and just ran with the title anyway. I’m not sure at what point Wilson’s progression is supposed to top out and/or level off, but if he continues to progress at the rate he did in his first two seasons, Steckel will have himself one hell of a toy to play with.

Will Ebner (6’1, 230, Sr., Friendswood, TX)

2008: 18.0 tackles, 3.0 TFL, 1 Blocked Kick
2009: 62.0 tackles, 9.5 TFL (3.5 sacks), 1 FF, 1 FR, 1 PBU
2010: 34.5 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 1 FF, 1 PBU
2011: 2.0 tackles

RPT: Ah, yes. The man so violent that Gary Pinkel giggled when talking about his dancer’s foot injury in 2010. EMBRACE THE HUMOR OF JUXTAPOSITION, PEOPLE.

Bill C.: When we first saw Will Ebner in action as a true freshman in 2008, he hit so hard that we all thought, "How does he not injure himself with every tackle?" Almost four years later, we know the answer: he does, in fact, injure himself with every tackle. But if we needed more reason to root for the fifth-year senior from Texas, who missed all but about two quarters of last season, we got it with this St. Louis Post-Dispatch story (http://www.stltoday.com/sports/college/mizzou/mizzou-family-helps-josey-recover/article_96e916b6-0fdb-5599-90ec-b9e9d4557c77.html), in which we learned about the role Ebner played following Henry Josey’s injury. Ebner is a hard-hitter … and one hell of a good person. And if he figures out how to stay healthy and duplicate his efforts from the 2009 season, Missouri has one hell of a linebacking corps.

The Beef: Ah … the Hurricane. What will come of him this year? Will we get 2009? 2010? Anything at all? I’d love to see him flying around for just one more year to really get to finish his career, but given his injury-plagued’ness (new word), I just do not want to count on it. But since Gooden started in one spot and Wilson was in another, I don’t know who takes the third....

Donovan Bonner (6’2, 235, Jr., Dallas, TX)

2009: 8.0 tackles, 1.0 TFL
2011: 9.5 tackles, 2 FF

The Beef: ….because I don’t know where Bonner ends up. Bonner made so little of an impact this year in my mind that he made a tackle in the bowl game and I thought he was Tavon Bolden, who had been kicked off the team, but allowed to return and I thought was somehow allowed for the bowl game. Needless to say (and as if often the case with Mizzou football and getting the player’s name right), Bill C. corrected me, but where does that leave him? Still with plenty of time in his career, though does he stay behind Andrew Wilson on the depth chart, or does he possibly make the move if Ebner can’t hold down the other spot? Getting a surprise out of him (or one of the next few people) could really take this group to the next level, as they would be otherwise somewhat thin.

RPT: I’m not sure we’ll know how much the injury set Bonner back. Everyone remembers what a fall camp revelation he was when he first stepped on campus. To say that skewed expectations would be a massive understatement.

Bill C.: We have seen hints of greatness from each of Missouri’s three projected starting linebackers, and those who watched practice in 2009 saw the same hints out of Donovan "Future Sean Weatherspoon" Bonner. But he missed all of 2010 with injury, and he was evidently limited last fall as well. He supposedly good in pass coverage, and he certainly looks the part. He still has two seasons to prove himself.

Darvin Ruise (6’2, 225, So., Glen St. Mary, FL)

2011: 1.0 tackles

The Beef: We heard so many things about this young man during the first fall he was on campus that some thought he might be able to burn the redshirt and play right away. That did not happen, though it was not a bad thing per say. However, the expectations were pretty big (for me) this past season, and as we can see, 1.0 tackles does not a fantastic season make. He was slotted in behind Gooden on the depth chart, so it is not necessarily like he has a potential to see a ton of the field this season. However, and like I referenced above, we do seem to need some depth at this position, and Ruise could certainly fill that role. Can he fill the #3 starter role? I don’t think so, as I think the coaches may want someone a little bigger. However, his production is going to be important next year, especially if he aims to take over for Gooden in 2013.

RPT: Ruise is one of the more interesting question marks on this team at the moment. Despite being from SEC country, is he a Big 12 linebacker/safety hybrid who will find himself out of place in Mizzou’s new surroundings? If you had given me that hypothetical a year ago, I would have been immensely concerned, but the success of Nebraska’s Lavonte David in 2011 completely changed my view on the matter. That’s not to say that Ruise is anywhere near the level at which David played for NU last season, but it shows that the typecast "Big 12 hybrid" can adapt and fill an impact role against significantly different styles of offense.

Bill C.: I hold silly grudges sometimes. (Sorry, Johnnie Parker. I have almost forgiven you for blowing a random, rather meaningless game in Norman in 1998.) Every time I saw Darvin Ruise over the last half of the season, I got frustrated all over again about the roughing-the-punter penalty he committed early in the second half at Kansas State. Missouri had held KSU to 42 yards over its previous 21 plays, but Ruise’s penalty gave them second life; they scored a touchdown, scored again to go up 24-3, then held on for dear life. All sorts of players make all sorts of mistakes, but most get the opportunity to redeem themselves with future play. Ruise, however, hasn’t gotten that chance yet. Yet.

Jared Parham (6’2, 230, So., Coppell, TX)

The Beef: I suppose in a snarky way, I can say the best thing about Parham thus far is that he is from a city which has a great Deli (or something like that). Beyond that, while paired with Ruise from the standpoint of a recruiting class, I guess I am surprised he did not even collect any stats last year. Sitting behind Gooden and Bonner, does he have a chance to see the field this year? Not as much, but that certainly should not stop him from collecting SOME stats this coming year. C’mon Jared, at least become a special teams standout or something.

RPT: Not just a Deli, but also a high school which produces young, handsome, charismatic young people who impact the community in a positive way by Photoshopping Laurence Bowers into random historical photos.

Bill C.: And producing a good portion of Rock M Nation’s hierarchy.

Kentrell Brothers (6’1, 230, RS Fr., Guthrie, OK)

Bill C.: Kentrell Brothers is, I believe, the first Mizzou player who played a high school game against my alma mater (Weatherford Eagles! Clap, clap, clap-clap-clap...) since Barry Odom and Julian Jones in the mid-1990s. Needless to say, that means definitively that he is the Next Barry Odom. He will grind out four successful seasons in black and gold, and in 2028, he will become Memphis’ defensive coordinator.

In more substantive analysis, it sounded as if Brothers would be the most recent linebacker to play as a true freshman until injury shut him down. Because who HASN’T gotten hurt in the last 12 months?

The Beef: Of the next three people, he is likely to be the only one I have more than a sentence or two, and as is common at this point, it has more to do with size than anything. With Lambert leaving and Ebner being … well … Ebner, I do wonder if Brothers ends up surprising this coming spring and summer and suddenly has a shot at somewhat considerable playing time. His is a name I will be looking for this off-season.

RPT: I still maintain that Missouri hasn’t had a linebacker like Kentrell Brothers in quite some time. Most of Missouri’s linebackers in recent years have been adept at avoiding blockers. Brothers excels in beating them at the point of attack. It was exciting in its own right a season ago, and it’s even more exciting given Missouri’s new opponents. He’ll have a year to learn behind Ebner, presumably, but I like the thought of Brothers helping anchor that unit for years into the future.

Clarence Green (6’0, 220, RS Fr., Clute, TX)

The Beef: I hope he put on weight.

(Ed. Note: This was written when he was listed at 205. He is now 15 pounds heavier. Success!)

Bill C.: Missouri has found success in taking a 190-pounder and creating a linebacker out of him (insert yet another Sean Weatherspoon reference here, but also think back to when Marcus Bacon was "safety Marcus Guerrero-Bacon."

Brandon Durant (6’0, 220, RS Fr., Copperas Cove, TX)

The Beef: I REALLY hope he put on weight.

(Ed. Note: This was written when he was listed at 195. He is now 25 pounds heavier. Success!)

Bill C.: Missouri has found success in taking a 190-pounder and creating a linebacker out of him (insert yet another Sean Weatherspoon reference here, but also think back to when Marcus Bacon was "safety Marcus Guerrero-Bacon."

(We have absolutely no idea how to differentiate between Green and Durant right now. Hopefully one, or both, will give us a reason to remember them on April 14.)

INCOMING: Donavin Newsom (6’2, 220, Fr., ***, St. Louis, MO)

Bill C.: Donavin Newsom is, basically, already the prototypical Mizzou linebacker: talented, fast, athletic, local kid, injury history. He can already check off all of those boxes. Newsom injured his knee as a senior, and while it was not considered a devastating injury, some are assuming that it is enough to prevent him from threatening to break the rotation as a true freshman. Still, he has one of the highest ceilings in Missouri’s 2012 recruiting class, and as soon as he is 100 percent, he will be very interesting to watch.

INCOMING: Michael Scherer (6’2, 230, Fr., ***, St. Louis, MO)

Bill C.: With each recruiting class, Missouri has a player or two who commit early and serve as one of the Tigers’ best, most vocal recruiters. Andrew Jones has long been the prototype in this regard, but for the 2012 class the No. 1 recruiter was probably Scherer. The one concern I’ve heard regarding Scherer is the possibility that he is a bit of a "tweener," a player with a defensive end’s skill set and a linebacker’s size. That said, every indication is that he is a natural "football player" type, a guy with great instincts and the ability to both fight off blockers and finish tackles.

INCOMING: Torey Boozer (6’3, 210, Fr., ***, Everman, TX)

Bill C.: Torey Boozer was another early commit, a high-intensity, high-personality defender. We didn’t know until Signing Day whether Mizzou considered him a linebacker or a safety, but with a large, and still rather skinny frame, he got the LB nod. He seems to work nicely in space; we’ll see what happens with him when he puts on some weight.

The Beef: I love the name of the city Boozer is from. I also love the potential size. I’d maybe even really love him putting on 20 pounds and thinking about becoming a tough linebacker with that sort of size and likely speed. Do I get what I want? Sometimes … but as a married father of one and another on the way … not very often.

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