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Defensive Depth Chart: Garrett still the leader on defense

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Even with the new 4-2-5 defense, Cale Garrett’s spot as the lead linebacker is cemented

Georgia v Missouri Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

With Missouri releasing its first official depth chart of the regular season Tuesday, Rock M Nation breaks down how the Tigers’ lineup is shaping up heading into the first game against Wyoming on Saturday.

Defensive end

  • Starters: Chris Turner, Jatorian Hansford
  • Primary backups: Tre Williams, Franklin Agbasimere -or- Isaiah McGuire
NCAA Football: Wyoming at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

This position probably looks different if Trajan Jeffcoat doesn’t go down with an elbow injury (and if Tre Williams doesn’t get arrested and charged with domestic assault in early December), but alas, this is where we are: Chris Turner and Jatorian Hansford are the starting defensive ends for Missouri.

This is a pair which raises some concerns, as Turner has been inconsistent while Hansford has made just one tackle in his college career. It’s not exactly what you want if you’re the Tigers, who are coming off a season in which they had little success with the pass rush.

Still, Turner started every game last season and finished with 24 tackles and two sacks, so he’s got potential on the end.

This position will probably look different in a few weeks. Once Jeffcoat is healthy, he’ll be the top defensive end on the depth chart. And once Williams, Missouri’s 2018 leader in sacks, is back in game shape, he should get bumped to the top as well.

But we’ll save that for the future. For now, Turner and Hansford are the guys defensive line coach Brick Haley is going with.

Defensive tackle

  • Starters: Jordan Elliott, Kobie Whiteside
  • Primary backups: Akial Byers, Markell Utsey

Defensive tackle is a lot less murky of a position than defensive end is for Missouri. Jordan Elliott and Kobie Whiteside have been expected to start since the beginning of fall camp, and nothing changed when the Tigers released their newest depth chart.

Elliott slimmed down heading into camp and has the potential to step into the interior leader role left behind by Terry Beckner Jr. and Walter Palmore. He finished the year with eight tackles for a loss, including a three-sack game against Arkansas to end the season, and he should provide a boost to Missouri’s efforts to increase the pass rush.

Whiteside has been competing with Akial Byers for the starting job since the end of last season, and he’s another player who’s impressed with his slimmer physique throughout camp. He finished 2018 with eight tackles in 12 appearances, with perhaps his most impressive play coming on a sack of Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa.

While Byers is currently a backup, he won’t be sitting on the sideline for long. He finished last season with 20 total tackles and two fumble recoveries, and with his versatility, he could even see time at defensive end. Utsey only played in three games in 2018 due to injury, but he saw action in 11 games the year before and will provide needed depth at the position.

Linebacker

  • Starters: Cale Garrett, Nick Bolton
  • Primary backups: Aubrey Miller Jr., Jamal Brooks
NCAA Football: Missouri at Vanderbilt Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Once again, no surprises here: Cale Garrett will be the starting middle linebacker, while Nick Bolton will start at weakside linebacker.

Garrett is far and away the leader of the defense, having led Missouri in tackles for two straight seasons. He’s the most important player defensively, and although he lacks the speed of some other SEC middle linebackers, he makes up for it with his natural ability and instincts. Garrett is a well-known commodity around the SEC — hell, he was just named to the preseason All-SEC second team by the league’s coaches.

Bolton was solid as a backup last season when he saw time in all 13 games and finished 15th on the team in tackles. He also played admirably against the Crimson Tide when Terez Hall was ejected for targeting, and he should improve immensely as a sophomore.

This is the first time we see the effects of the new 4-2-5 defense, as Aubrey Miller Jr. could’ve been the third starting linebacker, but instead will back up Bolton. Miller and Jamal Brooks both reached double-digits in appearances as sophomores last season and should reach those numbers again while seeing an uptick in production.

Cornerback

  • Starters: DeMarkus Acy, Jarvis Ware
  • Primary backups: Christian Holmes, Adam Sparks

Jarvis Ware might be the biggest surprise on the entire depth chart.

It was assumed that Ware would have a big role in the secondary (head coach Barry Odom said as much during fall camp), but it was also almost a certainty that Christian Holmes would be paired with DeMarkus Acy at corner. Instead, Ware will be on the field for Missouri’s first defensive snap against Wyoming.

As a freshman in 2018, Ware saw action in 10 games and made six tackles, but he clearly had one of the best offseasons of anyone on the roster, which bumped him up with the 1s heading into Saturday.

Acy was named second-team All-SEC after last season, when he managed just three interceptions but was always a consistent presence in coverage. Holmes will start Saturday’s game on the sideline, but as the player who allowed the lowest completion percentage among SEC corners in 2018, he’ll see the field in no time.

Adam Sparks is Acy’s backup, but he brings a ton of experience to the spot after starting eight games as a freshman in 2017 and the first half of 2018 before a leg injury derailed his season.

Safety

  • Starters: Joshuah Bledsoe, Tyree Gillespie, Khalil Oliver -or- Ronnell Perkins
  • Primary backups: Jordan Ulmer, Martez Manuel
NCAA Football: Memphis at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Another position affected by the new defensive scheme, Missouri will now deploy three starting safeties: Two that play deeper in the secondary and one that acts as more of a hybrid linebacker.

Joshuah Bledsoe and Tyree Gillespie were both stalwarts at safety last year and should be in the deeper safety spots Saturday. Bledsoe played in 12 games last season and recorded 28 tackles and a pair of pass breakups, while Gillespie started the final eight games of 2018 and finished third on the team with 48 tackles.

Khalil Oliver and Ronnell Perkins are co-starters at the third safety spot for now, but although they won’t be playing at the same time, they’ll both get pretty similar amounts of playing time.

Manuel is another surprise on the depth chart, as the Columbia-product replaced Jalani Williams as Gillespie’s main backup.