Looking for 2011 optimism? Look no further.
How important is a defensive tackle? Ask anybody who saw the 2009 Missouri-Nebraska game. Or, perhaps, ask anybody who saw Missouri play after Dominique Hamilton got injured last season. A good defensive tackle can eat up blockers, make a few plays, and open up the linebackers to be great. A great defensive tackle in a four-man line can almost serve as a one-man blitz, imploding the offensive line’s interior and forcing quarterbacks and/or running backs to abandon the script without sending any more men toward the line of scrimmage. Strength at the defensive tackle position can make more of a difference than perhaps any other position on the defensive side of the ball.
There are also perhaps fewer high-quality tackles in existence than at any other position on the defensive side of the ball.
Missouri saw a good one get hurt last season. He returns in 2010 … and this summer, in theory, Missouri welcomes the most highly-touted (and eccentric) tackle they have ever signed. There is perhaps more potential involved with Missouri’s corps of DTs than ever before. Will potential become reality?
Dominique Hamilton (6’5, 305, Sr., El Paso, TX)
2010: 14.0 tackles, 2.0 TFL/sacks (7 games)
2009: 32.0 tackles, 5.5 TFL/sacks, 1 PBU
2008: 13.0 tackles, 0.5 TFL/sacks, 1 PBU
RPT: Is Dominique Hamilton 2010 the new version of Brian Smith 2006? With all due respect to the tackles who filled in for Hamilton’s absence, there’s little doubt in my own mind that Mizzou’s season shifted when Hamilton went down. That’s not to say that Roy Helu wouldn’t have run for 914 yards against Mizzou anyway, but Hamilton being gone highlighted the fragility of Mizzou’s depth in the middle. Even with Sheldon Richardson (maybe) being in the fold, Hamilton may once again be the single most vital cog to Missouri’s defensive success in 2011. Somebody get that man some bubble wrap, ASAP.
Bill C.: I almost felt like I was mentioning it too much in diaries and to friends (okay, The Beef) during games. "Yep, that eight-yard gain went straight by where Dominique Hamilton would have been." Things to that effect. After Hamilton’s injury, the Missouri defense continued to play at a reasonably high level, but that was primarily due to solid pass defense; a run defense that was already the shakier part of the D very clearly and demonstrably got worse in Hamilton’s absence.
Hamilton’s statistics show the conundrum when it comes to evaluating defensive tackles. Some great tackles make a ton of big plays. Others make almost none. Hamilton was not ‘great’ by any means, but he was very good … and he made just two tackles for loss in seven games. But his absence hit the Tigers harder than Aldon Smith’s, and hopefully his presence makes a significant difference in 2011.
Terrell Resonno (6’5, 295, Sr., Jefferson City, MO)
2010: 25.5 tackles, 4.0 TFL/sacks, 1 Blocked Kick
2009: 8.5 tackles, 1.5 TFL/sacks
2008: 10.0 tackles, 1.0 TFL/sacks
RPT: In the past, Bill and I have hammered (okay, mostly Bill, since walkthroughs are the most writing I do all year) on how there are two types of defensive tackles. There are the transcendental types who manage to fill up box scores on their own (Suh, Dareus, Clayborn, etc.), but most of them are the "offensive line" of the defense, impossible to quantify statistically simply because they open up opportunities for everyone else. Three years into his career, it doesn’t seem like Resonno will ever be the former, but that’s okay providing one very important thing happens: He isn’t called upon to be the No. 1. He served admirably during the back end of 2011, but Mizzou’s defense really does take on a different dimension when defenses have to account for Hamilton and Resonno is able to simply keep the linebackers free. So, again, WILL SOMEONE PLEASE GET DOMINIQUE HAMILTON SOME BUBBLE WRAP.
Bill C.: At the beginning of their sophomore seasons in 2009, Resonno briefly got an edge on Hamilton and started the season alongside Jaron Baston. Hamilton quickly overtook him, but Resonno has still seen plenty of playing time in his career thanks mostly to a nice combination of strength and quickness. Projecting Hamilton’s seven-game pace out over 13 games, you get, basically, Resonno’s stats. But it was when they weren’t making the plays that separated these two. As Ross said, Resonno is a solid No. 2, and if things go as Mizzou fans hope in 2011, he may never have to be anything better than a great No. 3.
Jimmy Burge (6’2, 290, Jr., Houston, TX)
2010: 12.0 tackles, 1 PBU
RPT: It would greatly please me if I heard his name more frequently during broadcasts and less frequently in police reports.
Bill C.: Oh, but the hair. The hair!
In all seriousness, Burge has displayed a bit of a wild side in his time in Columbia, both on the field and off. He is an energetic competitor, but here’s to hoping he’s building toward a nice 2012 season and is never higher than No. 4 on Mizzou’s list of 2011 D-tackles. And here's also to hoping he's done with alcohol-related incidents.
Brendan Donaldson (6’2, 285, Sr., St. Joseph, MO)
2010: 7.0 tackles, 2.0 TFL/sacks, 1 FF
Bill C.: Who doesn’t like the "walk-on makes good" story? Like Burge, Brendan Donaldson -- a former walk-on offensive lineman -- squeezed his way into the rotation when Hamilton went down, and he even had a few nice plays to show for it. Donaldson’s strength is in his base; it seems that approximately 260 of his 285 pounds are in his legs. He is slightly above what we would call a "replacement level" player -- he is good enough not to embarrass you, but not good enough to become a starter on a good line. In theory, he will compete for the No. 4 spot in the rotation with Burge and the returnees listed below.
Marvin Foster (6’2, 300, So., Ft. Worth, TX)
2010: 2.0 tackles
Bill C.: A sleeper favorite of Ross and I not too long ago, Marvin Foster actually stayed healthy, more or less, this past fall. He made a couple of nice "defensive tacklish" plays -- steering a runner back toward the middle of the field, flushing a quarterback out of the pocket, etc -- but wasn’t able to differentiate himself from Burge and Donaldson. The spring is big for Foster; Sheldon Richardson is not yet in the picture (assuming he ever will be), and Dominique Hamilton is questionable for action. The winner of the Burge-Donaldson-Foster derby should see quite a bit of "starter" reps in March and April. The youngest of the trio, Foster could stake a claim to steady playing time for the next three years if he continues to get healthier and show what seemed like solid quickness for a 6’2, 300-pound tree stump.
George White (6’4, 285, Jr., Flint, MI)
Bill C.: If I remember correctly, George White was in the car with Marquis Booker and Jeremy Maclin when Booker unexpectedly flashed a gun outside a party and got himself kicked off the team. He’s been around a while. Hasn’t really ever seen the field, but he’s been around a while. And unless MUtigers.com is lying to me, he still has a bit more eligibility left after 2011.
Lucas Vincent (6’3, 300, RSFr., Olathe, KS)
Bill C.: FORMER WRESTLER ALERT! Ross and I were all sorts of excited about Lucas Vincent becoming, more or less, the Justin Britt of the defensive line. Vincent’s feet and overall strength were lauded, and he appeared to be one of the more high-upside kids in the recruiting class of 2010. Unfortunately, injuries sidetracked him just enough to assure a redshirt in August. We spoke above of a competition between Burge, Donaldson and Foster, but Vincent will have every chance to surpass all three of them.
INCOMING: Sheldon Richardson (6’4, 295, So., St. Louis, MO, ****/*****)
RPT: Who? Never heard of him.
Bill C.: Some dude.
Sheldon Richardson should -- SHOULD -- hit Columbia sometime in the early summer. Of course, we thought he was going to be here in May 2009 and January 2011 too. The soap opera surrounding Richardson’s recruitment, re-recruitment, re-re-recruitment, and re-re-re-recruitment to Mizzou has been well-documented.
(Okay, long story short: he committed to Mizzou very, very early … flirted with Miami and others … signed with Mizzou … didn’t qualify … re-committed to Mizzou … started flirting some more … visited USC and committed on the spot … quietly let his family and the Mizzou coaches talk him out of it … signed with Mizzou in December 2010 … was supposed to finish his junior college requirements in December but apparently came one course short … is finishing said course this spring and is scheduled to arrive this summer … and yes, that was the "short" version.)
Through all the drama, it sometimes became easy to forget one thing: two years ago, Rivals.com named him the No. 4 recruit in the country. Other former No. 4’s: Julio Jones, Ryan Mallett, Gerald McCoy, and Rhett Bomar. Okay, forget that last one. But you get the point. We get excited -- and justifiably so -- about the high ceilings involved with some of Missouri’s two- and three-star recruits in a given year (not that they sign many two-stars anymore). Sheldon Richardson’s upside dwarfs all of them. At 270 pounds, he returned kickoffs for his high school while also recording 19 sacks, five forced fumbles, seven fumble recoveries, six defensive touchdowns ... and 27 catches for 541 yards and eight receiving touchdowns. At one point, he dreamed of playing defensive end, defensive tackle, and tight end in college … and nobody who had seen him play questioned whether he could. Now he’s 295 pounds and, assuming he ever actually arrives on campus, might see time at every slot on the defensive line. Remember last year’s Candy Formation, where Aldon Smith moved inside to give Mizzou extreme quickness on passing downs? Richardson could play the role of Smith on just about every down -- a 295-pounder with end quickness.
The recruiting drama surrounding Richardson distracted us from the fact that he is likely the most high-upside recruit of the Gary Pinkel Era, and if he comes close to meeting his potential in 2011, this defense takes on a whole new dimension.
INCOMING: Gerrand Johnson (6’3, 270, Fr., Rayville, LA, ***)
Bill C.: An early-enrollee who originally passed on offers from Missouri, Nebraska and other major programs to commit to building something at nearby Louisiana-Monroe, Johnson stayed in touch with Missouri coaches and eventually made a switch in his allegiances. Gabe from PowerMizzou has been giddy about the possibilities of Johnson becoming Lorenzo Williams II, both in terms of his steady growth into a defensive tackle’s body and his gift of gab. He appears to be one of the more unique personalities in the 2011 class, and he’s in for spring ball. If Richardson indeed shows up and performs near his capabilities, then there is basically one spot in the two-deep available to either Burge, Donaldson, Foster, Vincent, White or Johnson … all of whom are possibly shaky No. 2’s … but pretty damn great No. 4’s. The race for No. 4 defensive tackle is not as vital as the battles for, say, No. 1 quarterback, center, cornerback, etc., but it could be an exciting one.
2011 vs 2010
In 2003-04, Mizzou hadand Atiyyah Ellison. In 1997-98, they had the likes of Pat Mingucci, Steve Erickson, Terrell Jurineack and Justin Wyatt. Assuming full health, upside and enrollment, this group of D-tackles could certainly surpass either of those units. The ceiling: Francis Peay and the best DT units from the 1960s. The floor: last year’s tackles or a bit better. Even if you're taking an "I'll believe it when I see it" approach with Richardson, this unit sees everybody return -- presumably healthy -- while adding Johnson and Vincent to the mix. That alone signals potential improvement whether you ever think Sheldon Richardson will see the field or not.
If you’re looking for a reason to get excited about the 2011 Missouri Defense despite the loss of Aldon Smith and quite a bit of experience in the secondary, look no further than this position.