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Spring Football Update: Defensive Line

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 defense, where the DEs and DTs have been the focus of a lot of practice talk.

Defensive Ends

Photo by The Trib's Julia Robinson

There's always a concern when you replace a 4-year contributor like Stryker Sulak, along with an underrated guy like Tommy Chavis (who didn't have a high-flying end to his career), but the two major returnees could be studs in certain roles, and there is a lot of athleticism entering the picture.  This isn't intended to be a "get pumped about 2009...all is well!!!" series, and I hope I proved that by worry about the lack of a #1 WR on Saturday, but that said I can't really hide my enthusiasm about this group.  They're young, relatively unproven, and very, very exciting.

What's Changed?  Two things: 1) the skinny ends added some bulk, and 2) Aldon Smith went from a scout team guy rumored to have a lot of potential, to a potential first-stringer with a lot of potential.  With Brian Coulter hobbled by injury early on, A. Smith staked his claim to a major role on the 2009 team, and with Coulter back, we've got quite a battle for who will be the starter opposite the other Smith, Jacquies.

Gabe from PowerMizzou gave one of the more exciting blurbs of the spring Tuesday night when he said "I'm really impressed by the play of the top three defensive ends for the Tigers. I had two different people mention to me that Aldon Smith looked almost unblockable at times."

I mentioned at the end of the '08 season that Mizzou could be better against the pass and worse against the run in '09.  The major rationale behind that was that Jacquies Smith and Coulter are both good in pass rush situations, but they hadn't proven that they could be sturdy every-down ends.  Well, Jacquies and Aldon Smith are both over 250 pounds now, from what we've read, and if they can be the every-down guys with the option of bringing in Coulter to fly off the end on passing downs, then this defense could be solid.  It's early, and we'll see what happens, but what I wanted to read this spring about the DE's, i've read.

Oh yeah, and some dude named Sheldon Richardson might be around in a few months to work his way into the rotation.

Projected Spring Finish

1. Jacquies Smith (So)
2. Aldon Smith (RSFr)
3. Brian Coulter (Sr)
4. Brad Madison (RSFr)
5. Marcus Malbrough (RSFr)
6. Chris Earnhardt (So)

Defensive Tackles

Photo by The Trib's Parker Eshelman

[George] White came to school as a 245-pound linebacker and quickly moved to defensive end, then defensive tackle, a la Lorenzo Williams.  He could be a 270-pound tweener who never finds a true position, or he could emerge from his redshirt season with a transformed 290-pound body like Williams.  We won't really know until we see him in the spring.  Size isn't everything at D-tackle, obviously (otherwise Andy Maples would have started this year), but you do probably need to carry a pretty high minimum weight to be able to perform well in the Big 12.  You hope it works out for this kid--he was directed to check out Mizzou late in the recruiting process by high school coach Tony Van Zant (yes, that TVZ) and stuck with Mizzou after having to spend a year at prep doesn't work out for everybody, so we'll see.

What Changed?  George White weighed in at 280+ pounds, for starters.  He and Jimmy Burge have both passed Andy Maples on the depth chart, meaning we almost have a four-way race for the second starting position alongside Jaron Baston.  Terrell Resonno is still the favorite, I think, but it does sound like there's a decent amount of quickness and athleticism on the two-deep at the moment.

The main question is, simply, will someone win the job, or will someone take the job?  Ziggy Hood was a force in the middle last year and was the main reason Missouri was so good at stopping the run in 2008.  We've established that Missouri might have a pretty good set of DEs in 2009, but while I'm very comfortable with the playmaking ability of Baston--I think he was a very underrated player next to Ziggy--it takes two.  Resonno's stats were minimal but decent, and he (and Hamilton, and apparently White) has a lot of quickness for the position.  But it takes quickness and strength, and until we see what these guys do, both against the strong Mizzou O-line in the Black & Gold game and against the Illinois O-line to start the season, we won't really know what we have here.  Call me guardedly optimistic, but I'm clearly more optimistic about the DEs than DTs.

Projected Spring Finish

1. Jaron Bason (Sr)
2. Terrell Resonno (So)
3. Dominique Hamilton (So)
4. George White (RSFr)
5. Jimmy Burge (RSFr)
6. Andy Maples (Sr)

Compared to the offensive units we've reviewed thus far, having two contributing seniors makes the D-Line the oldest of the lot.  Even with Baston and Coulter, though, this is still a ridiculously young front four, and while there's a lot of play-making ability to go around, you do figure a solid, experienced O-line could do some damage here.  Luckily, upon first glance there aren't a ton of solid, experienced O-lines on the schedule.