While the defensive ends are looking for somebody - anybody - to step up and be, ya know, good...the defensive tackles have the opposite of that problem. Of the eight guys on the tackle depth chart, two are fourth-year seniors and two are fifth-year seniors. And that’s not even counting a JUCO transfer and two sophomores.
Point is, the interior defensive linemen are the most superfluously stocked unit on the team...and half of them have the option of going bye-bye after 2020 (unless they want to return due to the NCAA’s ridiculous eligibility freeze). Let’s run down the roster and see what the Tigers have:
Whiteside had himself a helluva breakout year. After only making it through 11 games in his first two years, Whiteside started every game in 2019, logging 21 tackles and 6.5 sacks. How much of that is due to having 3rd Round Draft Pick Jordan Elliott wrecking offensive lines next to him? It’s unclear!
What is clear is that, even in one full season of starts and a handful of plays over the years before then, he is the only guy on the 2020 defensive roster that has a negative yardage per play average. Ideally, a player’s yards-per-play average should be as low as possible, since it determines how many yards were gained when the player made a tackle. However, linemen will naturally have lower numbers than, say, a guy in the secondary who makes a tackle on average five to ten yards down the field. Even so, Whiteside averaged -0.7 yards per play made in 2019, not easy to do!
Whiteside has certainly checked a lot of positive boxes in the off-season, from helping to organize the player marches to being a leading influence among the defense. If his play mirrors his leadership, then he’ll have a tremendous year. As is, he’ll have to deal with a lot more attention - and double teams - as he becomes the alpha on the defensive line this year.
The Arkansas Boys
Akial Byers & Markell Utsey
Byers has played all over the line but has found more consistent footing in the interior, especially now that’s he’s listed at 305 pounds. Personally, I thought he made a much bigger impact on the outside, but if he’s better at at the tackle position then go ahead and get it. Neither he nor Utsey have made many havoc plays in their time at Mizzou, but the role of most interior linemen is to eat blocks, not make plays, so in that respect these guys have done their jobs correctly. If they can eat space and Whiteside makes plays that would be enough for me, though you’d like to see at least a little more run stuffing/sack generation from one of these two. For what it’s worth, I think the eligibility freeze means we could see these two in 2021...but that’s not up to me to decide.
Chris Daniels & Ben Key
Daniels has seen the field a handful of times but with no stats logged, so while he and JUCO transfer Ben Key start from the same place stat-wise, Daniels has the year of experience in the SEC.
That being said...I’m way more excited for Key than Daniels. That might be because Key is a blank slate and had an absolutely dominating performance at East Los Angeles while Daniels has shown...well, nothing at any level. We’ll almost certainly only see them on the field for COVID reasons, but I’m hoping Key can find a way to break into the rotation this year, if not for the hopes of replicating his JUCO production, than to at least have a giant Aussie destroying fools in the SEC.
Isaiah McGuire & Darius Robinson
Two more candidates for the “break glass in case of COVID emergency” list. Each saw the field for a few games, and each logged at least one tackle in their opportunities. McGuire, in particular, had the odd, mistake-for-sure assignment of covering a West Virginia tight end who caught the Mountaineers’ lone touchdown in the 2019 beat down. These two and the two transfers above will be part of the 2021 defensive tackle core, but anything they can do to see the field and/or push the starters this year is a cherry on the top.
The Wee Baby
Montra Edwards II
Missouri nabbed the Mississippi gem from recruiting powerhouses like Arizona State, Auburn, Florida State and LSU, which is certainly telling for the quality that he can bring to the field. Will we see it this year? Probably not. But I’d love to see what he can do in a blow out situation, or maybe as a special teamer for this year. The future is bright for the young man, and if his recruiting acumen is anything like his on-field production we’ll be happy that he picked the black and gold.
What would dumb Nate do?
Get Whiteside and Utsey in the middle then bump Byers outside as defensive end to pair with Tre Williams.
What will actually happen?
Whiteside dominates snap counts, Utsey and Byers rotate in consistently, Daniels/Key/McGuire see time in emergency, Robinson and Edwards learn to be good teammates from the sideline.