There might not be a position group on Missouri’s roster that has undergone more of an overhaul over the past two offseasons than the defensive line. At defensive end, specifically, the Tigers added Tyrone Hopper and DJ Coleman to the mix last offseason, and they’ve added Joe Moore III (Arizona State) and Austin Firestone (Northwesern) since the end of he 2022 season.
We’ve already discussed what Moore can bring to the table. It’s time to dive deeper into Firestone’s story.
The former 3-star recruit out of Niceville, Florida — a suburb of Destin — was a 2-way player for his high school team, excelling along both the offensive and defensive line. The 6-foot-5, 260-pounder has since focused exclusively on the defensive side of the ball, specifically at defensive end. He played a total of 41 snaps in four games for the Wildcats last season, according to Pro Football Focus.
The transition is an interesting one. The majority of his highlights in high school came from the interior. His transition on the outside puts more pressure on his athleticism and ability to bend the edge. His physicality off of the edge and ability to play the run as well as the pass could endear him to the coaching staff the way it did for guys like Tyrone Hopper, DJ Coleman and Trajan Jeffcoat in previous seasons.
Where he fits: Firestone played almost exclusively at defensive end at Northwestern, and the same is expected to be true at Missouri. That being said, I do think he has the size and strength to kick inside on obvious passing downs. That could be where he maximizes his pass rushing potential. I wouldn’t expect to see that much in 2023 with the depth the Tigers have along the interior with Darius Robinson, Kristian Williams, Jayden Jernigan, Realus George, Jr. Marquis Gracial, Ky Montgomery and Jalen Marshall returning, but it very well could be something to expect in future years.
For now, Firestone should be expected to serve as a depth defensive end. His role could shape out to be similar to the one held by Tyrone Hopper a year ago.
When he’ll play: I think we could see Firestone on the field right away. That said, it’s not a given. He’ll likely start out behind Arden Walker, Johnny Walker Jr. and Moore. He’ll have to hold off some of the interior players who could also kick outside to defensive end. I don’t expect an every-down role for Firestone, but I think he’ll ultimately carve out a role as a role player on early downs in 2023, and eventually he could work himself into more of an every-down player with the ability to play inside or out.
What it all means: Missouri added some more veteran depth to its defensive end position, something it needed with the departures of Jeffcoat, Hopper and Isaiah McGuire. Firestone isn’t the same athletic marvel the Tigers had with McGuire, but he could bring some of the same qualities Mizzou had with Jeffcoat and Hopper. The hope should be for Firestone to develop into a solid edge rusher with the ability to play against both the run and the pass. This defensive coaching staff showed an ability last season to get the most out of its players. It will be interesting to see what role they have in mind for the new additions to the group.