posted on August 08, 2012 14:44
Leading up to Missouri's preseason camp, we'll take a look at each position, breaking down the incumbents, the new names and the story lines that will begin to form the narrative of Missouri's first season in the SEC. Today, we'll continue with the linebackers.
INCUMBENTS: OLB Zaviar Gooden (RS Sr.), MLB Will Ebner (RS Sr.), OLB Andrew Wilson (RS Jr.)
This actually might be one of Missouri's deepest groups of linebackers in recent years. The top three are set. Gooden and Wilson have been inked in since last year, and Ebner returns after a senior campaign ended by injuries. Now, Ebner is healthy -- healthier than he's been in years, he said -- and that bodes well for the middle of Missouri's defense. Ebner and Wilson can be true SEC linebackers, as they're hard hitters that are great against the run. Gooden had an inconsistent junior year, but there's no doubt he's the most athletic member of Missouri's defense. A big year by Gooden could pay dividends on his draft status, as he's a guy that reportedly has run a sub-4.4 40-yard before.
CHALLENGERS: Donovan Bonner (RS Jr.), Darvin Ruise (RS So.)
There are more young guys that could vye for playing time, but Bonner and Ruise are the clear-cut fourth and fifth membersof this rotation. If the top group weren't so set, Bonner could really challenge for a starting spot. But, he'll be the first guy off the bench, and has shown flashes this spring and August that he's finally becoming the type of player Missouri's staff saw in the 2009 recruiting class. Ruise never played linebacker until college, and now he's finding a rhythm, too. Both guys add an extraordinary level of depth to this group, and Bonner can play all three linebacker spots.
STORYLINES: Can the linebackers hold up to the pressure?
This position is undergoing a drastic shift in its responsibilities. In the Big 12, they were counted on to spread the field and cover pass-happy offenses. Now, they're playing in less space, and are required to clean up the run after the defensive line occupies blockers. The spotlight has never shined brighter on this group, and it's a sink or swim year for the linebackers. They could have the biggest impact in deciding whether this is just another bowl season, or something much, much more.