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Mizzou’s defensive line has an abundance of depth and questions to answer

Mizzou has plenty of options to turn to, but who will actually produce?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 09 North Texas at Missouri Photo by Rick Ulreich/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Believe it or not, we’re just a few months away from another season of Missouri Tiger football. As we do every summer, we’ve gathered the editorial staff to answer various questions about the different position groups across the roster.

Happy first day of fall camp, everyone!

While Eli Drinkwitz’s Missouri Tigers will take the field for their first “official” practice of the fall session, we’ve been in preseason mode for quite a few weeks now. After all, what else is there to do in the summer other than celebrate Sophie Cunningham’s breakout WNBA campaign?

If you’ve been keeping up, we’ve already covered the offensive side of the ball with our yearly position preview roundtables. You can catch up on all those below and then stick around for the defensive line, Blake Baker’s newly formed first line of defense.

The roster building on the defensive line has been sort of all over the place this offseason. So let’s start with a birds-eye view: What, as far as you can tell, is the plan for the defensive line in 2022?

PlayStation Fiesta Bowl - Oklahoma State v Notre Dame Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images

Brandon Kiley, Lead Football Writer: The mindset appears to be this: Missouri’s defensive line production in 2021 was unacceptable and it needs to be fixed in 2022 to make the defense work. So, what’s the plan to do that?

Add all of the defensive linemen. The Tigers added Power Five transfers, JUCO transfers, elite high school talent and everything in-between since the end of last season. Missouri had a winning record 11 times since the year 2000. There’s a trend in those seasons. The Tigers as a team posted at least 30 sacks in nine of those 11 seasons. The last time Missouri accomplished that feat was in 2017. It’s been a minute. That’s something this staff knows it needs to fix, and they know it.

Aaron Dryden, Staff Football Analyst: I think the plan was to add some size and depth to the defensive line, particularly at defensive tackle. The biggest issue last year, was the Missouri run defense. I believe a lot of that stemmed from just a lack of big bodies that Missouri had available to them. They had exactly zero (0) defensive lineman who were listed above 300 pounds. Now they have five.

I believe that this is a very talented group that has had the glaring issues at defensive tackle addressed. They just needed some more depth behind them. Now, I think with those additions this is a group that can really improve on their 2021 showing.

Josh Matejka, Deputy Site Manager: Throw something (or someone) at the wall and see what sticks.

Mizzou’s line, to put it generously, was a problem in 2021. Their horrendous start to the season put Mizzou behind the eight-ball in the win column and ushered Jethro Franklin swiftly out of Columbia. They got things cleaned up by season’s end, but they can’t afford to follow that same trajectory this year. By adding proven Power Five talents — Jayden Jernigan, Josh Landry and others — and unproven Power Five talents with some upside — Ian Mathews and DJ Coleman — Mizzou can use the summer to mix and match until they find a two-deep that will at least be a more stabilizing presence up front. From there, you hope a few guys can level up in your development and, bada-boom, you’ve got a formidable defensive line.

A lot of players on Missouri’s line have flashed NFL talent, but few have delivered it consistently. In your mind, do the Tigers have any ends or tackles primed to make that leap in 2022?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 20 Florida at Missouri Photo by Rick Ulreich/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Brandon Kiley: I think there are a few players that immediately come to mind. Trajan Jeffcoat is a really good player, but he’s someone who wins with power more than your traditional speed rusher, and as a result you’re not going to see some lofty sack numbers. If I was going to pick one player to have a true “breakout” season for the Tigers this season, it would be Isaiah McGuire. He was on a tear to finish last year with three sacks and seven tackles-for-loss in the team’s final six games.

But neither of those answers comes as a surprise to anyone. I actually have more excitement about the interior rushers this year than the edge rushers. I’ve been waiting for the Darius Robinson breakout the last couple years, and I really think this might be when it happens. Jayden Jernigan is the defensive line transfer I’m most excited to watch, and I think he can replace the production Missouri was expecting from Mekhi Wingo before he decided to transfer to LSU.

Aaron Dryden: I re-watched the Georgia game and even though the result was bad, Trajan Jeffcoat had a lot of *flash* plays. Plays where he wins with power, plays where he wins with quickness too, and against the highest level of competition. This is a reoccurring theme, as his best season at Missouri was in 2020 when he played against an all SEC schedule. He has considerable size and has shown a lot of growth in stopping the run. If I had to choose, he’s probably the guy I’d choose.

Josh Matejka: I’m still a believer in Trajan Jeffcoat. Last season proved to be a disappointing follow up to 2020, but you wonder how much of that had to do with offense’s keying on him. Jeffcoat still has all the tools to be an All SEC performer, and hopefully 2021 is a lesson learned — that he can’t rest on his laurels. With improved depth and additional threats on the edge, Jeffcoat should work his way into the draft.

There are more than a few celebrated recruits — from 2021 and 2022 — itching to break into the rotation. Of that group, who do you think will stand out most this fall?

NCAA Football: Missouri at Georgia Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Brandon Kiley: I think Kyran Montgomery would have been the obvious answer to this question before his injury. I sounds like he could be back sooner rather than later, so maybe he still is. If it holds him back longer than expected then I would go with Marquis Gracial. He’s built like a tank and he has some serious pass rush potential along the interior. I would also love to see Travion Ford get a chance to produce this season.

Aaron Dryden: It’s Marquis Gracial for me. Missouri needs a space eater on the inside and Gracial certainly fits the mold. As a true freshman, he’s listed at 331. That’s the heaviest defensive lineman on Missouri’s roster and if you’ve ever seen Gracial in person, he’s mostly muscle. In an ideal world, he would earn some rotational snaps behind some of the more experienced guys.

Josh Matejka: I’ll zig where BK and Aaron have zagged. I’m excited about the prospect of Gracial, but I’m not sure he’ll crack an interior that just added four transfers to go along with Darius Robinson. Instead, I’m looking forward to seeing Travion Ford finally break into the rotation. Jeffcoat and McGuire are good, but they can’t play every down. Ford’s talent is evident and Drinkwitz needs one of his vaunted recruits from 2021 to win some snaps. I think Ford will be the guy.

Have any questions you want answered about different positions on the roster? Let us know in the comments and we’ll submit them to be included in our coming features!