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Taking stock of Missouri’s projected defense 6 weeks before signing day

Cale Garrett
Derrick Forsythe (Rock M Nation)

Last week, we took a look at what Missouri will return on offense in 2017 and where the Tigers are still looking to fill recruiting needs. Today, we’ll do the same for the defense.

On paper, Mizzou absolutely improved in 2016. The Tigers rose from 85th in S&P+ to 64th and now enters head coach Barry Odom’s second year; in terms of overachievement and positive surges, a new coach’s second and third seasons are the most likely times for that to occur.

So yeah, the future might be pretty bright. But a second-year surge will depend on a defense rediscovering its mojo. It regressed almost as much as the offense rebounded.

(Once again, players with a ‘*’ began as walk-ons and might or might not be scholarship players this fall, players are listed with what will be their 2017 year of eligibility, and the numbers in parentheses represent the number of players on scholarship at that position plus the number of current commits.)

Defensive ends (5-6 + 2)

Marcell Frazier
Derrick Forsythe (Rock M Nation)
  • Returning contributors: Marcell Frazier (Sr), Spencer Williams (Jr), Jordan Harold* (Sr), Nate Howard (Jr)
  • Other returnees: Josh Moore (Jr), Tre Williams (RSFr)
  • Commits: Nate Anderson (Jr), Chris Turner (Fr)

Mizzou will boast plenty of experience at end, but only Marcell Frazier showed signs of a breakthrough in 2016, and that was primarily in a three-game span at the end of the year. The Tigers needed more options here, and they will probably be attempting to add at least one more signee to go with JUCO guy Anderson and high schooler Chris Turner. North Carolina product Zion Debose, for instance, visited recently, as did four-star Kansas City native (and probable sign-and-place candidate) Chester Graves.

One guy to pay a lot of attention to in spring ball, by the way: Tre Williams. He’s a four-star recruit we heard quite a bit about in fall camp, and if he’s put on some weight, he could threaten to crack the two-deep pretty quickly. Odom has recently noted that he plans on maintaining a lot of the aggressive line tactics the Tigers employed (with hit-or-miss effect) over the final month of the season. That could mean a potential breakthrough for either Williams or Nate Howard.

Defensive tackles (4-5 + 1)

AJ Logan
Derrick Forsythe (Rock M Nation)
  • Returning contributors: A.J. Logan (Sr), Terry Beckner Jr. (Jr)
  • Other returnees: Markell Utsey (So), Josh Moore (Jr), Tyrell Jacobs (So)
  • Commits: Rashad Brandon (Jr)

ALERT! ALERT! MIZZOU MIGHT NOT HAVE ENOUGH DEFENSIVE TACKLES TO FILL A DEPTH CHART FOR THE SPRING GAME. With Beckner and Utsey both rehabbing knee injuries, the Tigers are basically left with Logan and ‘tweeners Moore and Jacobs.

Brandon probably won’t be the only JUCO tackle Mizzou signs — the Tigers have sent out a ton of offers over the last month or so — but we’ll see how many are able to get to campus before spring ball starts. Probably not many.

If healthy, a rotation of Logan-Beckner-Utsey-Brandon could be pretty solid. But Mizzou needs more bodies here, and it’s a pretty obvious focus between now and signing day. The current January visit list includes high schooler Jalen Twyman (Washington, DC) and JUCO Walter Palmore (Eastern Arizona JC). High schooler Caleb Sampson visited in December. n There will be more.

(I listed Josh Moore at both DE and DT because he’s basically smack in between the two positions in terms of skill and size. Simply looking at the depth chart opportunities, one would have to assume he ends up at tackle this spring.)

Linebackers (9 + 2)

Eric Beisel
Derrick Forsythe (Rock M Nation)
  • Returning contributors: Eric Beisel (Sr), Cale Garrett (So), Joey Burkett (Sr), Brandon Lee (Jr), Terez Hall (Jr)
  • Other returnees: Trey Baldwin (So), Franklin Agbasimere (So), Grant Jones (Jr), Roderick Winters (Jr)
  • Commits: Aubrey Miller (Fr), Jamal Brooks (Fr)

The Mizzou linebacking corps has loads of athletic potential, and a lot of the more high-ceiling guys on the list (Beisel, Lee, Hall) saw quite a bit of playing time thanks to both injuries and everyone else’s inconsistency.

The mission for 2017: re-learn how to tackle. Mizzou was in position to make more plays than it actually made, and tackling was a massive issue, particularly for both the linebacking corps and safeties.

One other note, I guess: One has to figure this is an area for potential transfers to start adding up. Five 2017 returnees played a decent amount, a sixth (Baldwin) was promising enough to have his redshirt removed, and three others are now either sophomores or juniors without ever having cracked the two-deep. With two more interesting freshmen coming in (assuming no decommits), that’s probably too many linebackers.

Cornerbacks (5-6 + 1-2)

NCAA Football: Eastern Michigan at Missouri
Logan Cheadle
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
  • Returning contributors: Logan Cheadle (Sr), DeMarkus Acy (So), TJ Warren (So)
  • Other returnees: Anthony Hines (Sr), Christian Holmes (So), Finis Stribling IV (Jr)
  • Commits: Terry Petry (Fr), Joshuah Bledsoe (Fr)

Hello, Bill’s Biggest Defensive Concern for 2017. There’s a lot of athleticism and potential here and almost nothing in the way of known quantities. Cheadle has shown random flashes over three years but has never been relied on like he will be next fall. The training wheels are off for Acy and Holmes as well. You figure the two incoming freshmen — plus perhaps a third; Mizzou is not done recruiting this position — will have every chance in the world of cracking the two-deep.

Another player to watch in spring: TJ Warren. I’m listing him at both corner and safety because a) he was a starting corner in the 2016 spring game and b) he played primarily nickel back and was never listed as a corner this fall once he returned from injury. At 5’11, 210, he’s pretty thick for a corner, but we’ll see.

Safeties (8-9 + 0)

NCAA Football: Kansas State at Texas Tech
Kaleb Prewett
Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
  • Returning contributors: Thomas Wilson (Sr), Anthony Sherrils (Sr), Cam Hilton (Jr), Ronnell Perkins (So), TJ Warren (So), Kaleb Prewett (Jr)
  • Other returnees: Greg Taylor (Jr), Tavon Ross (Jr), Jerod Alton (RSFr)
  • Commits: Joshuah Bledsoe

Mizzou returns four to five exciting/maddening potential starters and adds Kansas State transfer Kaleb Prewett to the mix. And I have absolutely no idea what the depth chart will look like. You could make the case for any combination of two of these six guys starting at safety. Plus, it’s not too late for either Greg Taylor (now that he’s up to speed) or Tavon Ross (if he’s ever healthy) to turn into something solid.

Mizzou isn’t done recruiting either. Joshuah Bledsoe could end up either a corner or safety, and Mizzou is supposedly in good shape with former Iowa State commit Jordan Ulmer.

The safety position spent half the season being a life saver and half being a sieve. I have no idea what to expect here, though for whatever reason I’m thinking the most likely starting five in the secondary (including a nickel) would probably be Cheadle-Acy at corner, Warren at nickel, and ... Prewett-Perkins at safety? Or maybe Wilson-Sherrils. Or Prewett-Hilton. Or Sherrils-Hilton. Or...