COLUMBIA — For Missouri’s Tampa 2 scheme to work, the weakside linebacker has to do a little bit of everything, from defending the run to covering backs and receivers.
By TEREZ A. PAYLOR
The Kansas City Star
After watching Sean Weatherspoon and Zaviar Gooden capably do so the last six years, sophomore Kentrell Brothers and junior Darvin Ruise know filling the void won’t be easy.
“In our defense, weakside linebackers are in space a lot,” Ruise said, “and sometimes he’s in space by himself on a guy like Amari Cooper.”
That, Ruise said with a chuckle, actually happened to Gooden in Missouri’s 42-10 loss to Alabama last October, when got matched up with the dynamic sophomore Cooper, who was in the midst of a 59-catch, 1,000-yard, 11-touchdown campaign.
“I think Zaviar got matched up on him on a wheel route or something,” Ruise said, still laughing. “Anybody that knows football sees that and they’re like ‘Oh my god, that’s a mismatch for a linebacker.’ ”
Cooper didn’t get the ball, however, because Gooden — a 6-foot-1, 234-pound linebacker who boasts 4.47 speed — narrowed the disadvantage with athleticism neither Ruise nor Brothers can match.
Both players, however, draw inspiration from Weatherspoon, who racked up 393 tackles at Missouri and was actually taken higher in the 2010 draft (19th overall) than Gooden was in the 2013 draft (97th overall), despite running a much slower 40 time (4.68).
“I remember the first day I got here, coach (Gary) Pinkel was like ‘You look just like Spoon when he got here,’ ” Brothers said. “That’s all I hear now.”
The same goes for Ruise, who — like Brothers — is listed at a Weatherspoon-like 6 feet 1 and 240 pounds and inherited Weatherspoon’s No. 12 when he arrived in 2010.
Still, only one man can emerge as the starter, and it appears Brothers, who took the overwhelming majority of the first-team reps in Missouri’s most recent scrimmage, has the inside track at the job, though he admits it brings out mixed emotions.
“From the day I got here, he’s been somebody who has been carrying me on his hip and I appreciate him for that,” said Brothers, who came to MU one year after Ruise. “It was awkward at first when coach was telling us ‘You guys are splitting reps…and we’re like, ‘Aw man.’ ”
Yet, Brothers admits the competition sometimes gets the best of him.
“In practice, there’s this little bit of me that’s like 'Come on, just mess up a little bit,’ ” Brothers said with a laugh. “But there’s also that bit of me that says ‘Come on, you’ve got to get this right because when the season starts, I want you to make these plays.’ So it’s kind of like a love-hate relationship, but we’re still friends through it all.”
Some of that, at least, can be attributed to the bond that’s built between two men who understand the perils that come with playing the position. For instance, both Brothers and Ruise still get a hearty chuckle out of the Gooden-Cooper story. They know what it’s like to be put in a similar position.
In fact, it happened to Ruise in Missouri’s first scrimmage, when he found himself matched up on junior receiver Bud Sasser. Ruise knocked the ball away, but was whistled for pass interference.
Brothers has racked up two interceptions in MU’s first two scrimmages, but Ruise remains undaunted in their battle to become Missouri’s next great weakside linebacker.
“I felt I looked like a new safety out there, running with him step for step,” Ruise said. “I guess I’ve got to turn around a little bit faster and play the ball a little bit more, but it was cool and I felt good doing it. I felt like I was there.”