It became clear this spring that Missouri is going to be emphasize the nickel back position a bit more this coming fall. After leaning quite a bit on linebacker Donavin Newsom to fulfill that role, Barry Odom and his brother, new OLBs coach Brian Odom, appear to be attempting to get a little bit more agility there to deal with slot receivers.
That said, Mizzou will still be deploying at least two linebackers and will, in theory, still spend a decent amount of the time deploying three. And a look at the scholarship count moving forward suggests linebacker will be a key recruiting priority next year. I’m almost surprised it isn’t this year.
(As always, former four-star recruits are in bold.)
TJ Warren and Tavon Ross are now listed as linebackers, but I’m withholding them for a separate conversation about nickels later on.
Five returning linebackers have gotten a large number of reps with the first string at this point — Beisel, Burkett, Lee, Hall, and Garrett — and all five have randomly looked good. Jones and Winters have been lost in the shuffle to date, and it might be hard to break through if Mizzou really is deploying more nickel sets.
Beisel finally got his shot in the rotation and did relatively well, playing a key role in basically only the last five games of the season but tying Cale Garrett with six tackles for loss, the most in the linebacking corps. He had five of them against Kentucky and South Carolina, and he was all over the field, backing up his pre-game smack talk, in the season-ending win over Arkansas.
Overall, missed tackles doomed this unit; that, plus an injury to Michael Scherer, is why Beisel got an opportunity in the first place, and he took full advantage. You like to have options here, though, especially if Beisel maintains that form throughout an entire season. Between Beisel, Garrett, and less consistent high-ceiling options like Lee and Hall (who seemed to settle into a first-string spot for much of spring ball), the odds of finding two steady starters is high.
Plus, in Aubrey Miller and Jamal Brooks, Mizzou has two athletic, vocal freshmen trying to butt their way into the rotation as well. When you’ve got seven to nine interesting options here, you’re more likely to find two or three who can tackle, yeah?
Quantity becomes an issue soon
Three members of the experienced fivesome return for 2018, too. Terez Hall got a lot of first-string reps in the spring, and Brandon Lee, the most well-regarded recruit of the bunch, still has time to make a mark.
The well dries up pretty quickly, though. Only three current linebackers are scheduled to be around in 2019, and while all three are pretty exciting ... you obviously need more than that.
Linebacker recruiting doesn’t seem to be as much of a priority in this class as recruiting on the offensive and defensive lines, but for all we know that has something to do with who’s available. Ayodele Adeoye isn’t now — the St. Louis four-star just committed to Texas.
There are some intriguing names on the board — La'Dedric Jackson of Montgomery (Ala.), Cameron Wilkins of Del Valle (Tex.), etc. — but we'll see who takes priority and how many Mizzou aims to land. If they only end up with a couple, then linebacker becomes a major priority in the 2019 recruiting cycle.
Of course, if Brooks and Miller quickly look like the real deal, then this becomes at least slightly less of a grave necessity and more of a simple numbers thing.