Throughout the remainder of the offseason, I’ll be putting a spotlight on one returning player and one newcomer at each position who’s generally intriguing for the 2022 season. There are plenty of avenues of thought when it comes to who you may think is most interesting, so feel free to voice your opinion down below in the comments!
Returner: LB Devin Nicholson
Nicholson in 2021, started the season as an entrenched starter who profiled as the type of linebacker to try and take over the MIKE linebacker spot that was vacated by Nick Bolton. It all made sense. He had plenty of snaps the year previously, and was still young enough to where you could see him taking a jump forward in his play. Unfortunately, Nicholson and the defense as a whole really struggled on defense for most of the year and by the end of the season Nicholson had lost his starting spot.
While Chad Bailey slid into a starting role, and is back in 2022, Blaze Alldredge isn’t. So theoretically, Nicholson has a chance to try and earn his way back on the field. He’ll have competition, but Nicholson now has two seasons of experience in the SEC and is still has some solid skills and athletic ability.
The biggest issue for the linebacking corps last season, were their run fits. There were far too many times where the wrong reads were made and guys were out of position. Couple that with some horrible tackling, and that’s how you get a performance like the one in 2021.
It’s important to note that progress isn’t always linear and just because a guy struggled some previously, doesn’t mean that they’ll always struggle. In the case of Nicholson, I believe there is still some really good football in him but he’s going to have to continue to improve his body but also his discipline to get back to his level of play that he was at in 2020.
Newcomer: LB Tyron Hopper
Tyron Hopper arrives from Gainesville as a much needed transfer, at a position of need, from a divisional rival. Can’t get much better than that.
At Florida, he had found a way to nab a starting spot in 2021 and had a really solid year for the Gators despite their team floundering. If you remember, Hopper had quite the impact in Florida’s matchup against Mizzou as he finished with 12 total tackles including a couple tackles for loss. What you get from Hopper, is a linebacker with really high level speed and a willingness to fly downhill to make plays. He doesn’t spend a lot of time diagnosing, he just goes.
Can you see where we’re coming from?
Hopper in coverage is actually pretty good for a linebacker. He does a good job of tagging guys who come through his zones and passing them off to the next guy, and is athletic enough to play in man coverage with good technique which shouldn't be too surprising given that he actually played some cornerback and safety in high school.
Tyron Hopper was exactly the addition that Mizzou’s linebacking corp needed. A high level athlete at linebacker who can run side to side and track down ball carriers consistently. If all goes as expected, he should be getting a lot of snaps and is likely the starter for Mizzou in 2022.