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Roster Reset: It’s a ‘super senior’ year for the Tigers at defensive tackle

Kobie Whiteside, Akial Byers and Markell Utsey are back, but who else will step up for the Tigers at defensive tackle?

West Virginia v Missouri Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s spring ball time!

Well, kind of.

Mizzou is scheduled to open up spring practice on February 28th. So, it’s close. Spring practice is slated to come to an end on March 26th. We’re still not sure when (if?) there will be a Black and Gold game this spring.

With spring practice only a few short weeks away, it’s time to take a look at who is back, who is leaving and who the Tigers have added since the end of the 2020 season.

We kicked things off with the quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, offensive line and defensive end. Let’s continue with a look at the defensive tackles.

Defensive Tackle Reset:

Returning:

  • Akial Byers (Senior)
  • Markell Utsey (Senior)
  • Kobie Whiteside (Senior)
  • Benjamin Key (Junior)
  • Isaiah McGuire (Sophomore)
  • Darius Robinson (Sophomore)

Arriving:

Returning Player Analysis:

2020 was a strange year for Mizzou’s defensive tackles. Markell Utsey was his typical solid self but Akial Byers didn’t see the spike in production fans were hoping for and Kobie Whiteside saw his production take a nose dive because he was never able to get healthy. The one player who stood out was sophomore Darius Robinson. His production (11 total tackles, one tackle for loss) doesn’t jump off the page, but he had a few moments when he looked like the Tigers’ best defensive lineman. That’s what you’re looking for from a young defensive tackle.

You wouldn’t think there’s a lot to be excited about from the position based on what you just read. But that’s now how I view the position. 2020 was a strange year for everyone, and Mizzou’s defensive tackles were no exception. Utsey, Byers and Whiteside returning for another season is a really big deal. Those three add depth to a position without a ton of young players ready to take that next step. If they didn’t return, the depth would be slim to none. Another year of solid starters returning to the fold is something worth celebrating. If Whiteside can get healthy this time around, he could become the Robin to Trajan Jeffcoat’s Batman. Here’s to hoping.

New Arrival to Keep an Eye on:

For 2021, the name to watch is Realus George Jr. He’s the most interesting player in the Tigers’ 2021 recruiting class. The former top-rated full back recruit in the country didn’t see things go his way at Miami. He transferred to JuCo for a position change and that, umm, didn’t quite go as he hoped, either. His JuCo team didn’t play football this fall, so George didn’t have an opportunity to show off his skills along the defensive line.

He was an absolutely dominant player in high school both at full back and along the defensive line. Can he regain form at the college level? It’s an open question. We have no idea if he’ll be ready to contribute right away of if he should be viewed as a project for the next few years. Either way, he’s someone to keep an eye on for this year.

For the future, though, the player to watch is Mekhi Wingo. For my money, he’s one of the Tigers’ most underrated recruits in the 2021 class. The former St. Louis defensive tackle is undersized, but he packs some serious punch in his hands. It might take some time to develop at the power five level, but he’s someone who should fit into the Tigers’ plans at the position for 2022 and beyond.

Position Battle to Watch:

Byers, Utsey, Whiteside and Robinson should be viewed as the four players most likely to see significant time at defensive tackle. Who else will see the field? Can Benjamin Key find his way into the rotation? Will George be ready right away? Is Isaiah McGuire going to see the majority of his playing time inside or at defensive end?

We know who four of the Tigers’ defensive tackles will be. The question is if (and if so, who) anyone else can work into the mix.

Bottom Line:

The Tigers have plenty of depth at the position for next season. The bigger questions are what the plan is for 2022 and beyond. The three most proven defensive tackles are returning for their ‘super senior’ season. That’s good! But it also means the young guys might not see much playing time to develop to find out what they have for the future.

That’s one of them good problems, but it’s also something Drinkwitz will have to keep in the back of his mind. Robinson’s development is significant for 2021, but it’s also important for the Tigers’ future at the position.