If Missouri is to improve in an SEC East division that has potential to be even more stacked within the next few years, the defense has to get better. With a new man in charge and a duo of defensive ends that could be NFL prospects, the Tigers have some of the needed elements in place to improve.
The Tigers struggled to stop the run last season, in part due to a thin group on the interior of the defensive line. Missouri has added some talent there, but if it can’t improve as much as needed, the linebackers will have to pick up the slack.
With the season coming up fast, MU currently has 11 linebackers on the roster, ready to play in the Tigers’ 4-2-5 defensive scheme. Here are some facts about each of the options.
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Bailey started eight games last year for the Tigers, earning more time on the field after Jamie Pettway transferred out of the program. Bailey showed an ability to shed blocks, an area where other Missouri players struggled last season.
The senior from Missouri City, Texas finished the 2021 campaign with 46 total tackles, 5.5 of them for loss. He also contributed a sack and two fumble recoveries.
Bailey is expected to maintain his starting spot on the weak side. He and Ty’Ron Hopper will be key contributors as the Tigers look to improve their overall defensive performance under new coordinator Blake Baker, formerly Missouri’s safeties coach.
Bailey sat out the 2022 spring game, along with several other key defensive players.
The senior, who transferred to Missouri from Wyoming ahead of the 2021 season, played in seven games last year. He started five games at Wyoming as a redshirt sophomore in 2020.
Hicks made a tackle in the Tigers’ spring game. He is expected to back up Bailey but will try and push his fellow senior and earn playing time.
The senior from Detroit played in all 13 games last season, starting in eight of them. He finished the season with 50 total tackles, including five for loss.
Nicholson also contributed two sacks. In Missouri’s spring game in March he made an impact, pitching in with four tackles, one for loss.
He is expected to back up Ty’Ron Hopper.
Hopper transferred to Missouri from Florida this offseason, after being expected to earn a starting spot with the Gators for 2022. He joined his cousin Tyrone Hopper, a defensive lineman for the Tigers who transferred from North Carolina.
Hopper made 65 tackles last season for Florida, starting four starts. Ten of the tackles were for loss.
The 6’2”, 220 pound senior from Shelby, North Carolina also had 3.5 sacks and forced a fumble. He will likely take over the middle spot of the Tiger linebacking corps.
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The Rock Bridge product largely played on special teams in 2021, appearing in four games. His lone career tackle came in 2020, thought he also had one in the 2022 spring game.
Lovett, now a redshirt freshman, appeared in three games last season. He came to Missouri from Rockledge in Florida, earning a three-star rating out of high school.
He made two spring game tackles.
Wilson came to Missouri as a three-star prospect from Grover, North Carolina. He played in two games as a true freshman, keeping his redshirt before making two tackles in the 2022 spring game.
A 6’0”, 215 pound true freshman from Pine Lake Prep in North Carolina. Garrido was all-state and led North Carolina in points scored as a duel-threat quarterback.
He chipped in during the Missouri spring game, making one tackle for a loss.
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The edge linebacker from Louisiana was a three-star prospect who committed to Missouri late in the recruiting cycle. He chose the Tigers over offers from New Mexico and Murray State among others.
Norris will join his brother Will as a linebacker for the Tigers as a preferred walk-on. Like his brother, he also played his high school football at Rock Bridge.
Simmons, another true freshman, was a four-star prospect, also out of North Carolina. He chose the Tigers over offers from Oklahoma, South Carolina, North Carolina, NC State and Illinois among others.
Matt Stahl is the Missouri athletics beat reporter for the Columbia Daily Tribune. Follow him on Twitter @mattstahl97.