Will you guys be able to replace Sheldon Richardson? What does his departure mean for this unit?
Ask any one of Missouri Tigers‘ defensive linemen what the most dominant question has been by the Tigers media this offseason, and they’ll most likely say the exact same thing.
One of the biggest question marks for head coach Gary Pinkel‘s team coming into the 2013 season is the depth of his defensive front, and replacing the unit’s production, voided by Richardson, former Mizzou and current New York Jets defensive tackle, after he entered the NFL Draft as a redshirt junior in April.
The All-American junior college transfer collected 75 tackles, four sacks, three forced fumbles, 10 1/2 tackles for loss and seven quarterback hurries. Essentially, he was the Tigers’ defensive MVP last season for defensive coordinator Dave Steckel‘s bunch.
The Tigers understand that the Jets’ 6-foot-3, 295 pound first-round pick is gone from Columbia, along with talented seniors from a year ago, Brad Madison and Jimmy Burge; additionally, a new supporting cast of characters must step up to the plate starting next weekend against Murray State at Faurot Field.
Missouri has already begun turning their eyes to finding star-power viable candidates to replace Richardson in the interior line.
The group consists of mostly inexperienced players that have not hit the field with regularity in their careers for the black and yellow.
Redshirt junior Matt Hoch leads the group, starting every game last season alongside Richardson at nose guard. He recorded 36 tackles and two sacks last season, and was the only returning Tiger to have started a game in his career. Hoch has an incredible motor; that kind of success wasn’t seen with Richardson in the picture, however, the redshirt junior did an outstanding job of stuffing plays at the line of scrimmage a season ago. He is accompanied by projected starters at the three technique: 6-foot-2, 290 pound redshirt junior Lucas Vincent, who has 14 tackles over two seasons as a backup, redshirt freshman Harold Brantley, senior Marvin Foster and freshman Josh Augusta.
Brantley, 6-foot-3, 300 pounds finds himself as the key reserve this season for the Tigers’ line, after progressing in the weight room and becoming mentally ready to play to take on an SEC caliber defensive tackle role. He could battle Vincent for starting time this season at defensive tackle.
Brantley, Foster and Augusta will be part of a steady rotation used by defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski this season, who is working the middle.
The defensive line presents explosiveness from both edges. Starting defensive ends Michael Sam and Kony Ealy both return from productive seasons a year ago.
Sam, redshirt senior defensive end, led the Tigers D with 4 1/2 sacks, and beat out Madison for a starting job in the middle of last season. He has that tenacious knack to fly to the ball, and should lead the Tigers again in total sacks this season.
Ealy, a redshirt junior defensive end, was arguably the best player, besides Richardson, on the defensive front last season. He left 2012 with 37 tackles, 10 tackles for loss and 3 1/2 sacks. He is extremely agile, and could develop into a solid pass-rusher as a junior, to the point that he would enter in the NFL Draft after this year.
Both players will get added cushion from solid redshirt sophomore Shane Ray and redshirt junior Markus Golden starting this season.
If this unit wants to carry Missouri’s defense this season, they must get production from first-year starters and multiple role players starting against the Racers next weekend.
If the offense doesn’t get flustered by various injuries, presenting numerous three-and-outs will help the defensive unit as well.