It’s fall camp time! As your Missouri football Tigers begin their fall practices to get ready for the season, Rock M Nation will begin going through each position to take stock of the depth and project the position for the season.
Today we look at the biggest question mark on a dynamite defense: the edge rushers.
Of the defensive ends who were on the team last year, only Johnny Walker, Jr. and DJWesolak return, and Wesolak moonlighted as a linebacker last year while taking a redshirt year. Most of Walker’s snaps came in the bowl game against Wake Forest.
Nyles Gaddy is a transfer up from FCS Jackson State where he started 24 games over the past two years. Joe Moore III portalled in from Arizona State after getting 703 snaps over three years and registering 3.5 sacks and 9 TFLs over that timeframe. Former Northwestern end Austin Firestone took a redshirt year while seeing 44 snaps over three games and registering 3 tackles and 1 TFL.
Serigne Tounkara and Jakhai Lang are the two freshmen edge rushers from the most recent recruiting class. Lang has already had some moments in fall camp and earned his number but neither is expected to start as a freshman.
Do you like unknowns? Do you enjoy learning as you go? Do you respond well to experimentation? If you answered yes to all of those questions, boy, do I have a position group for you!
Missouri’s defensive end rotation is full of unknowns.
Isaiah McGuire, Trajan Jeffcoat, DJ Coleman, Tyrone Hopper and Arden Walker took 1,579 of Missouri’s 1,692 snaps at defensive end last season, according to Pro Football Focus. The only returning defensive end is Johnny Walker Jr. Walker played more than a half-dozen snaps just three times last year... The last three games.
Suggesting we know what Walker is going to be this season would be a lie. The same is true for newcomers Nyles Gaddy (Jackson State), Austin Firestone (Northwestern) and Jakhi Lang (freshman). The lone “known commodity” for Missouri coming off the edge is Joe Moore III. The former Arizona State defensive end played more than 500 snaps last season for the Sun Devils. His statistical profile was similar to what Jeffcoat produced for Missouri.
It’s starting to make more sense as to why Missouri is experimenting with defensive tackle Darius Robinson kicking out to the edge, huh?
Uncertainty at one of football’s most important position groups isn’t ideal. It breeds anxiety. But Missouri’s defensive scheme and the talent in the back seven should help to alleviate some of those concerns. Ty’Ron Hopper (4), Chad Bailey (4), Martez Manuel (3), Dreyden Norwood (1), Jaylon Carlies (1) and Joseph Charleston (1) each produced sacks for the Tigers in 2022. None of those players lined up at defensive end. Blake Baker is not afraid to get creative if that’s what it takes to pressure the quarterback. We could see a lot of that early in the season as Baker figures out what the rotation looks like coming off the edge.
The truth is Missouri probably doesn’t have a game-wrecker coming off the edge this year the way it did a year ago. Some of that pressure is going to have to come from the depth along the interior. A lot of it will come from blitzing linebackers. The Tigers’ defensive ends might go from being the primary to the tertiary source of pass rush productivity this season.