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Mizzou 2009, Part Eleven: Linebackers

After a few days of talking about some other team, it's back to Mizzou we go.


2008 Unit Ranking: #14 in the nation (#3 in the Big 12)

Projected Depth Chart
Sean Weatherspoon (6'2, 250, Sr.)
Luke Lambert (6'3, 235, Jr.)
Andrew Gachkar (6'3, 235, Jr.)
Will Ebner (6'1, 230, So.)
Zaviar Gooden (6'2, 225, RSFr.)
Donavan Bonner (6'2, 230, Fr.)
Tyler Crane (6'3, 230, So.)
Jeff Gettys (6'3, 235, Jr.)
Josh Tatum (6'1, 235, Jr.)

Here at RMN, we've proven very excitable in terms of the running back situation, the defensive ends, and especially the offensive line (oh yeah, and the quarterback).  But is there any more exciting aposition on the Mizzou team than linebacker?

1. Is this Gary Pinkel's best linebacker corps?  It's certainly the deepest.  Mizzou isn't exactly Linebacker U. by any means, but for a while now, they have had at least one stellar LB.  Barry Odom made every tackle in the late-'90s, followed by Jamonte Robinson, then Sean Doyle.  James Kinney wreaked occasional havoc from 2001 to 2004, and Dedrick Harrington and Marcus Bacon were solid and serviceable through 2006.  But here's the deal: there are a couple of backups in this current unit who might be at least as good as Bacon and Deke were as underclassmen.

This unit has a nice combination of size and speed.  First, you've got The Man, Sean Weatherspoon, a tackling and play-making machine who was told he was a third-round pick at the end of 2008 and decided to come back for his senior season.  He was told he needed to learn how to better shake off blocks, so he put on ten pounds and supposedly hasn't lost a step.  It's hard to imagine how 'Spoon will be better in 2009, but as long as he's as good, the rest of the unit will make everybody look better.

Beyond 'Spoon, you've got Luke Lambert, a starter in his last 15 games, moving to his natural spot in the middle.  You've got Andrew Gachkar, a speed demon and two-year special teams missile, seeing his stock rising with each day.  You've got Will Ebner, a stocky, mean sophomore with speed.  You've got Zaviar Gooden, good and respected enough to become the first recipient of the #25 jersey, barely able to find room on the second string.  You've got Donovan "'Spoon Jr." Bonner, seemingly forcing a turnover a day in practice as a true freshman.  You've got Tyler Crane, athletic enough and with enough potential that the coaches played him as a true freshman at DE in 2007.

And let's face it...even Jeff Gettys would have probably started on that last Larry Smith team.

I've said it before, but there could not possibly be a better time to make the switch to Dave Steckel at defensive coordinator.  While there likely won't be many strategic changes from when Matt Eberflus was manning the position, Steckel seems to coach with a linebacker's mindset.  This unit will pursue, pursue, pursue, and if defensive improvement is found despite all the lost starters, look to the linebackers for the main reason why.

2. How good is Luke Lambert?  Good question.  Very good question.  While supposedly Andrew Gachkar has had to fight to hold onto his starting position, Lambert is apparently safe, and his move to the middle might be a great thing.  I worry, though, simply because he's not a playmaker.  While Sean Weatherspoon made 65.0 "successful" tackles (second-highest in the country among linebackers), and Brock Christopher made a solid 40.5 (75th), Lambert made only 12.0 of 22.5 overall tackles.

Now, the average S&P for his tackles was 0.760, putting him directly between 'Spoon (0.736) and Christopher (0.772).  Plus, his run-pass split of tackles also fell between the two; 62.2% of his stops came against the run ('Spoon 61.6%, Christopher 65.7%).  Looking at ratios and the quality of his tackles, it seems he's got pretty good potential.  It's just that, well, he didn't make that many tackles for a full-time starter.  Of course, with how much Mizzou played nickel last year, he might not have truly gotten a starter's number of plays.

With Ebner, Gooden, and Bonner all potentially making a solid threat for playing time, we'll see pretty quickly if Lambert is facing a challenge or if he's still a step ahead of all of them, but if he can maintain a controlling force in the middle while 'Spoon is 'Spoon on one side and Gachkar/Ebner/Gooden/Bonner are flying around like headless chickens on the other side, this defense will have no choice but to be pretty serviceable.

3. Will Ebner: Category 5 hurricane...or Category 32?  Yes.



2009 Mizzou Football Preview Series