After losing senior starting linebackers Andrew Wilson and Donovan Bonner following the 2013 season, linebacker will be one of the most up-in-the-air positions for the Missouri Tigers entering 2014. Redshirt junior and returning starter Kentrell Brothers figures to fill one of the starting spots, but even his status isn’t certain after surgery to repair a torn labrum that caused him to miss most of spring practice.
Prior to his injury, the Tigers had taken the unusual step of moving Brothers—arguably their best and most most athletic ‘backer—inside to replace Wilson. While this move will give him optimum playing time, keeping him on the field when the Tigers go into nickel and dime packages, it might hurt a bit to have him on the inside in the base defense, where he won’t be able to take full advantage of his athleticism. He’ll be Mizzou’s most experienced returning linebacker by far, having registered 70 total tackles and 6.5 tackles for loss during 2013.
The second linebacker who seems to have a pretty firm grip on a starting job is redshirt sophomore Michael Scherer. While the 6-foot-3, 235-pounder wasn’t seen as an elite athlete coming into the program, he’s apparently advanced athletically to the point where the Tigers feel that he can hold down the strongside linebacker position. Another option, however, could be playing Scherer in the middle. He occupied that position following Brothers’ injury, and he presumably would do so if Brothers had any other complications or if the Tigers decided to move him back to the outside.
Though he’ll have to battle for his position in the fall, Donavin Newsom is the most intriguing option at the weakside spot. Newsom, a 6-foot-2, 230-pound redshirt sophomore who is a spectacular athlete, had moved into a starting spot prior to suffering a shoulder injury this spring. Newsom, who emerged as a big-time special teams player late in the season and finished with five tackles, could be a real weapon for the Tigers, as his athleticism should match up well with the elite offensive talents of the SEC.
Before Newsom moved into a starting spot, redshirt senior Darvin Ruise had been running with the number one defense in spring practices. Ironically, Ruise also worked with the starting defense last spring before being jumped on the depth chart by Brothers. Ruise, who has been a significant contributor to Mizzou’s special teams, will look for a chance to finally start from scrimmage during his final year as a Tiger. One thing’s for sure: he will need to improve his conditioning to stand a chance as a starter. He lost his position during the spring because the coaching staff thought he was too heavy.
Another player who could contribute to Mizzou’s defense from scrimmage in 2014 is middle ‘backer Eric Beisel. The 6-foot-3, 235-pound redshirt freshman impressed during spring ball, and he could get some time in the regular season as a result. Clarence Green, an undersized but athletic redshirt junior, could push for playing time at one of the outside spots after seeing some time as a starter due to the injuries during the spring. He should be a significant special teams contributor as well.
Other linebackers on Mizzou’s roster include redshirt senior Denzel Martin, redshirt sophomore Christian Williams, and redshirt freshmen Tanner Hull and Joey Burkett. Burkett, ranked the ninth-best 2013 recruit in Missouri by ESPN, seems to be the only one of the four who has a chance to get meaningful playing time in the future. 2014 recruit Brandon Lee joined the team for spring workouts, and he’ll be joined by Roderick Winters in the fall.