Since Mizzou’s entrance into the SEC six years ago, it’s defense has almost always been dominated — at least narratively — by a steady stream of defensive line stars. From Michael Sam to Charles Harris, it seems like every good to great Mizzou team has at least one budding member of #DLineZou to boast of.
However, one of the other consistent features of those units has been solid linebackers: Donavin Newsom, Michael Scherer, Kentrell Brothers and others. And with the coming season just days away, this year’s roster has an intriguing group of linebackers who could become the now and future stars of some potentially memorable Tiger squads.
Just as we did with the defensive line, we’re gathering some of our new writers to preview each position. Today, we’re focusing on the linebacking corps and how it could feature heavily in a big year for the Mizzou defense.
The linebackers are an interesting mix proven commodities and rising stars this year. Pick one player from both categories and explain why you think they’ll have big years.
Ryan Herrera, Football Beat Writer: The veteran that’ll stand out is Terez Hall. He was the playmaker on the weakside during his junior season, and posted the second most tackles (85) and second most tackles for a loss (12.5) on a stingy linebacker unit. Cale Garrett could have been in this spot as well, but with Hall’s senior season on the horizon, I’m expecting him to make a big jump and dominate on his side of the field. For the younger guys, I think Aubrey Miller Jr. will show a lot of people his potential this season. He cracked a bone in his leg pretty early last season, but he came back after missing three games and put in some solid work on special teams. He also had one of the more impressive showings in this past spring camp, and though he’s nowhere near taking the starting spot over Hall, I figure he’ll take advantage of a good amount of snaps around the field.
Jack Parodi, Football Beat Writer: Missouri’s second leading tackler in 2017 is coming back this year for his senior season, as he looks to be one of the best linebackers in the SEC. Senior Terez Hall racked up three double-digit tackle games last season and will surely build upon that — especially under Vernon Hargreaves. He’ll be one of the leaders of the Missouri football team and one of the better all-around linebackers in college football. Sophomore Jamal Brooks proved himself on special teams last year, but will get more of an opportunity to play in 2018. His biggest asset is his speed, but at 6-foot-1 and 250 pounds, Brooks will serve as a solid complement to Hall when the senior needs some rest.
Josh Matejka, Editor: It feels like Cale Garrett has been this unit’s leader for a long time, but Terez Hall is the real star. He’s not quite Kentrell Brothers, but he has shown a nose for getting to the ball and he’s got even more athleticism. He’s in a great position to get himself drafted next year, and a big senior season could vault him into the early rounds. And as for the youngsters, I would’ve loved to pick Chad Bailey. But after his injury in training camp, I think I’m also going to go with Jamal Brooks. He’s earned a lot of praise from the coaching staff over the past year and a half, and even got a chance to sport the #25 jersey. That’s a big honor in Columbia, and Brooks will get plenty of opportunities to show it off this year.
The linebackers position has been hit by a lot of coaching turmoil over the past year and a half. But it seems like Vernon Hargreaves has earned a lot of trust with this group. How do you think Hargreaves will affect the play this season?
Ryan Herrera: From the way the players have spoken about him this offseason, I believe Hargreaves will bring his guys up a level. Hargreaves brings 33 years of experience at the college level with him — including a stint with the 2001 National Champion Miami Hurricanes — so the man has seen a lot. Guys like Hall and Garrett have raved about the way he pushes them in practice, and it seems like they now have a guy they would run through a brick wall for. If they can take that mentality to the field, I’d expect it to light a fire under the rest of the defense as well.
Jack Parodi: Hargreaves is an experienced coach, but more importantly, the man is a winner. He won the BCS National Championship Game with Miami (FL) in 2001 and helped coach a slew of successful NFL linebackers. His coaching skill is undoubted, but what’s going to be most important this year is the fire he brings to his players. With the talent Missouri boasts at the position, having a linebacker group that will go balls-to-the-wall for 48 minutes could make the defense elite.
Josh Matejka: Jack really nailed it on the head — Hargreaves is a winner, and that’s an important characteristic for this team. For Mizzou to take the leap from 7-6 to 8-4 or 9-3, the defense will need to be much better than it has been. We’re fairly certain the defensive line talent will be there, but if Hargreaves can get his guys to buy in — and it seems like he has — a stout front seven should help a somewhat shaky secondary pick up the slack. And with upperclassmen like Garrett and Hall, Hargreaves has an opportunity to build a culture among a group that sports a lot of young and old talent.