Since I’ve been following the team — the past five years — Missouri has used anywhere between 20 and 28 defensive players regularly over the course of a season.
It usually breaks down to around nine to 10 defensive linemen, five or six linebackers or nickelbacks and seven to eight defensive backs.
When the depth chart is more settled, like in 2013 or 2015, that overall number hovers closer to 20. When it’s more in flux, like last year, it edges up toward 28.
So what do we make of the 2018 Missouri defense? Who has the best shot to be used, and in what capacity?
Well, what are we if not educated guessers? Presenting a post-spring game look at just who might be the leaned-upon population for the Tigers’ defense this fall.
Surefire Starters (5):
- CB DeMarkus Acy
- DT Terry Beckner
- LB Cale Garrett
- LB Terez Hall
- DE Tre Williams
Beckner, Garrett and Hall: duh. They were three of the best players on the defense last year and will most undoubtedly (barring injury or anything else major and unexpected) be the core of what the Tigers are doing this season. Acy was a shakier starter than those three last year, but he’s earned the benefit of the doubt from baptism by fire as an underclassman, as well as exhibiting a pretty dang near prototype size/speed combo at corner.
Williams wasn’t a starter last year and is coming off a shoulder surgery but (glances up and down the end depth chart) Missouri is probably finding itself in a big spot of trouble if he doesn’t seize one of the starting spots. It’s not one of those “good problem to have” type situations. It’s one of those “oh jeez we have to rely on someone who just got to campus two months ago” situations.
Possible Other Starters/Platoon Possibilities (12):
- S Joshuah Bledsoe (or...um...Kaleb Prewett?)
- DT Jordan Elliott
- S Tyree Gillespie
- S Cam Hilton
- CB Christian Holmes
- LB Brandon Lee
- DT Walter Palmore
- DE Daniel Parker
- LB/S Ronnell Perkins
- CB Adam Sparks
- DE Chris Turner
- DT Kobie Whiteside
Out of this group, the ones who are closest to “surefire starter” status are Hilton, Lee and Sparks.
Lee and Sparks were starters last year and haven’t done anything to lose it, but they also have interesting platoon possibilities that merit their inclusion in this group. For Lee, it’s Perkins embodying the nickel linebacker role that Barry Odom loved sprinkling into games last year.
For Sparks, it’s the unknown of Holmes, who looked poised to make a splash coming out of camp last year before being lost for the season. And, really, the Tigers like to play at least three cornerbacks consistently: two starters and a catch-all backup. Holmes could be said catch-all.
Hilton appears to be in a bit of a Tre Williams position as well: the type of guy who has never been a surefire starter before...but kind of has to be now if the Tigers’ defense wants to be decent.
Elliott, Palmore and Whiteside are going to battle to see who starts alongside Beckner (and who gets to be that guy’s backup...because Beckner’s backup ain’t seeing the field for more than 15 snaps a game...), and those three plus Turner and Parker (or a couple of guys we’ll get to in a second) will battle to see what is to be done about that other end spot. Will it be a more traditional front, like Missouri has shown in the past? Or will, as Odom talked about earlier in camp, a big man like Elliott get a look on the outside?
Perkins is in a good spot to take snaps as both the top nickelback and a backup safety, and someone like Gillespie can fill in some more backup safety snaps.
And I’m just going to say it because I haven’t seen anything about it ... but what’s going on with Prewett? Suspended, right? Like, for good? Or for now? If it’s “for now,” he could have a little something to say about these top two groups.
Depth-Fillers/Specialty-Set Stuffers (7):
- DE Nate Anderson
- DT Rashad Brandon
- LB Jamal Brooks
- DE/LB Trajan Jeffcoat
- LB Aubrey Miller
- DT Caleb Sampson
- S Jordan Ulmer
Anderson filled in the depth at end last year and is probably consigned to the same role this season. Brooks and Miller will catch as catch can at linebacker behind Garrett and Hall. Miller, too — with his star rising after the spring game — could be an interesting candidate to play in the Tigers’ 3-4 sets, either playing rush end or subbing in at linebacker so someone like Lee or Hall could be the rush end (wouldn’t that be fun?).
Jeffcoat, at a sleek 6-3, 220 pounds, could be an interesting candidate on the end as well (or 6-4/220 Jatorian Hansford or 6-2/255 Franklin Agbasimere). Sampson could fill in the tackle depth, and Odom mentioned him as a possible option at end (could see Akial Byers here as well). Ulmer can stick his nose into the safety depth as well as being a possible fill-in for Dime sets, if Hilton moves up and plays slot corner.
So there’s your 24. With ... uh ... three or four more thrown in for good measure. Does this look like a top-60 defense? Eh, if the 15 or 20 unproven players on this list are more good than bad, then sure.