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Spring Football Update: Linebackers

The switch has been flipped from basketball to football, and I figure the best way to dip our toes back in the water is to revisit my 2009 Walkthrough series from January and see what has or hasn't changed since then.  We move now to LBs, which could be the anchor of Dave Steckel's first defense.


Photo from The Trib's Parker Eshelman--I tried to use a different one than the go-to 'Spoon photo.

[A]s 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.

What's changed?  Andrew Gachkar has seized a starting job and isn't letting it go, for starters.  Gachkar, an "only knows one speed" kind of guy who has served primarily as a special teams missile the last two years (with a blood clot battle and rib removal in between), has thrived with Dave Steckel's aggressive mindset so far this spring, and if he turns into a nice weapon opposite Sean Weatherspoon, Mizzou will have the best, fastest LB corps in the Big 12 North.

Outside of Gachkar (who I'm having fun calling "GACK!" in my head) and everybody's All-American (or at least All-Conference) 'Spoon, it's all about finding the right combination.  Luke Lambert has been steady in the spring, and he looks like the likely starter, but two other big names are still lurking.  Will Ebner, likely the hardest hitter on the team not named Sean Weatherspoon, is still fighting it out on the second string but has a VERY bright future, and four-star JUCO recruit Josh Dreaderick Tatum was doing some pretty good things before coming down with some back issues last week.  Any time somebody's hobbling around, the last word you want to hear is "back" (unless preceded by "Tatum is" and proceeded by "on the field"), but we'll see what happens with him.  Hopefully it's nothing serious.

When all is said and done, Lambert might be the best choice to man the middle, as he plays pretty controlled overall.  Gachkar, as much as we've seen him so far, does not.  Having two wild men on the outside with a steady, Brock Christopher-like force in the middle, is probably a good thing.

And for that matter, it does appear that recruiting is setting us up with a few years' worth of this type of combination.  You've got 'Spoon and Gachkar, plus potentially Ebner and a couple of fast incoming freshmen (converted DB Tavon Bolden and potentially-soon-to-be-converted-DB Donavan Bonner), to man the outside positions, and bigger guys like Tatum and former Ray-Pec LB Andrew Wilson to potentially man the middle.  Who knows--maybe I'm making all that up and it won't happen that way, but that's the way it's shaping up to my eyes.

In all, this could be the perfect unit for Steckel to play with in his first year as defensive coordinator.  Never mind the potential All-American in 'Spoon--it's the depth of options and speed that makes this unit exciting.  That, and the fact that once again underclassmen dominate the two-deep, as with just about every other unit on the roster.

Expected Spring Finish - First String

1. Sean Weatherspoon (Sr)
2. Luke Lambert (Jr)
3. Andrew Gachkar (Jr)

Expected Spring Finish - Second String

1. Will Ebner (So)
2. Josh Tatum (Jr)
3. Tyler Crane (So)

I would look for at least one true freshman to maybe crack the second string in the fall, if Crane isn't doing well or if Tatum's injury troubles continue.  I LOVE the top four names on this list, however, and I'm excited about guys like Tatum and Andrew Wilson.