With the 2021 season officially over, it’s time to break down the performance of the team position by position. We’ll look at the stats for the year, the departing players, new additions, and some predictions for what we’ll see in 2022.
The 2021 linebackers will be remembered for a all-or-nothing Viking warrior and the emergence of a forgotten blue-chipper. What surprises will 2022 have in store?
When the spread offense revolution began in the early aughts and fully took over the sport in the early teens, it not only transformed the way the game is played but damn near changed the way players are used. Offensive linemen became more spaced out and needed to win one-on-ones more often; tight ends had to be pass catchers; skill position guys needed to be able to take a handoff and catch a pass; defensive linemen needed to pressure the quarterback; and linebackers needed to be able to play the pass effectively. The fullback essentially disappeared overnight and, with it, the run-stuffing linebacker specialist became a less sought-after skill. Linebackers do still need to hit the hole and bash into runners, of course, but the days of a Brock Christopher/Andrew Wilson/Michael Scherer enforcer that’s a total liability while covering passing lanes are all but gone. Linebackers that can stop the run, cover tight ends, and create quarterback pressures are the ones that continue to see the field which is why a Sean Weatherspoon/Cale Garrett/Nick Bolton type of player are the ones that see the majority of the snaps.
Missouri deploys a 4-2-5 base defense, meaning that (in theory) their base defense has four defensive linemen, two linebackers, and five defensive backs on the field. The past two years have seen a safety - Martez Manuel - frequently line up in the general vicinity of the second linebacker meaning the Tigers have occasionally employed a 4-1-6 alignment. But, at its core, the Tigers have two starting linebacker spots to fill and, last year, trusted two guys to rotate at the Mike linebacker slot and one dude at the Will. Now, for the second year in a row, a super productive Will linebacker is gone and all that production needs to be replaced and the options are mostly young and mostly unproven. Let’s review, shall we?
Jamie Pettway was a special teams player and the backup weakside linebacker for his two years on the field. He was unable to get past the two productive dudes ahead of him - one of which just tore it up for the Chiefs this year - so he hit the portal 7 games into the 2021 season. We only saw him for 82 snaps in his career so its unclear what he could have been in the future but now we’ll watch him hit that potential at Florida Atlantic.
Blaze Alldredge was a walking extreme. You either loved him or you hated him because he either stuck a stick of dynamite in the opponent’s execution or was nowhere to be seen as a ball carrier ran freely for a leisurely 60-yard jaunt to the end zone. But that’s what you expect from a guy who makes so many explosive plays: that explosion can be good or bad. And thanks to a new scheme that his linemen didn’t grasp until halfway through the year, and his habit to over pursue, Alldredge was the target for much of the ire directed at the Missouri defense. But much like his larger brothers in front of him, Blaze rounded into form late in the season and provided 81 tackles, 17 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, and 20 run stuffs on his own: that is 10% of the team’s total tackles, 18% of the team’s TFLs, 16% of the team’s sacks, and 19% of the team’s run stuffs from one dude. As a comparison, in Nick Bolton’s last season he was 14% of the team’s total tackles, 14% of the team’s TFLs, 10% of the team’s sacks, and 25% of the team’s run stuffs. Not too shabby, Blaze!
With Blaze Alldredge holding down the Will linebacker slot all year while seeing 655 of the possible 756 defensive snaps, the Mike linebacker position had some intrigue as the incumbent starter, Devin Nicholson, began seeing some competition. While Nicholson did finish with more snaps at the Mike, former blue-chipper Chad Bailey finally emerged from his production cocoon and started getting starter-level snaps during the “JUST CHANGE ANYTHING” portion of the defense’s 2021 adventure. With 26 fewer snaps Bailey finish with 9 more tackles and 6 more run stuffs than Nicholson, certainly creating a scenario where the competition for the spot continues through spring and fall camp. Hopefully that competition breeds further success.
Outside of the three names listed in that paragraph, the pupu platter of depth pieces still remain (as of now): Wyoming-transfer Chuck Hicks, third-year backup Will Norris, and redshirt freshmen Zach Lovett and Dameon Wilson should be ready to prove their mettle and at least attempt to push their names into rotational discussion. Wilson was mentioned several times in last year’s fall camp but wound up being a dutiful special teamer. Nick Bolton had a similar trajectory but, at this point, anyone rising up to earn relief snaps will be worth it, especially given the big name that joined the roster over the winter.
Incredibly, Ty’Ron Hopper was not Florida’s primary linebacker. Granted, when you have a Brenton Cox AND a Mohamoud Diabate on your team, that’s understandable. But, even over his 449 “rotational” snaps in 2021, Hopper was a nightmare for offenses. 56 tackles, 7 TFLs, 2.5 sacks, and 11 run stuffs is about as elite-level backup a team could ask for. Just go back and watch the Missouri-Florida game from last year - not just because the good guys won - but because Hopper logged 21% of his season’s tackles and 29% of his tackles for loss against the Tigers. He’s a bit undersized for an SEC linebacker but has the speed and production to be a starter for Mizzou game one. This is probably the best transfer addition the for the team heading into ‘22 and he should be an absolute joy to watch.
Xavier Simmons flipped his commitment from Virginia Tech to Missouri on August 14th and, given the type of offers he was getting, it’s a definite win for the Tigers. Simmons is currently on campus and participating in spring ball and is measured at 6’2”, 248 pounds as what should be a high school senior. He’s certainly built like an SEC linebacker and his tape shows that he can move like one, too. The competition for the two spots will be tight but he’s stepping into a great place where he can learn and develop without any rush.
Carmycah Glass was a signing day addition and a bit of an unheralded recruit. Despite playing at Louisiana’s top high school division and earning All-State honors, the low 3-star product from Monroe, LA didn’t have many P5 offers. Whether that’s from being overlooked from a more isolated region and not going to camps or just not having enough production on tape, Glass will also have plenty of time to develop and provide depth for the upcoming season.
- Prediction: Starters will be Hopper and Bailey; backups will be Wilson and Nicholson.
- Bold Prediction: For the third-year in a row, Missouri’s Will linebacker leads the team in tackles for loss and run stuffs and leaves for the NFL.
- HOT TAKE: Xavier Simmons pulls a Sean Weatherspoon, starts as a freshman, and terrorizes SEC offenses for three years before becoming awesome in the NFL.