COLUMBIA — Defensive end Kony Ealy wasnt exactly a beanpole when he arrived at Missouri four years ago, but he certainly wasnt one of the nations most versatile and elite defenders either.
By TOD PALMER
The Kansas City Star
When he got here, he was 207 pounds as a freshman, Tigers coach Gary Pinkel said. Now, hes 267, but you always saw this extraordinary athlete big frame, long and a potentially broad-shouldered guy.
Its that athleticism that makes Ealy unique, especially with an eye toward his NFL future.
Not only can Ealy get after the quarterback, but hes also a hard-nosed run defender on the edge. Look no further than his 7 1/2 sacks, 14 quarterback hurries and 37 tackles, including 12 1/2 tackles for a loss, for proof.
Ealy who is officially listed at 6 feet, 5 inches and 275 pounds has enough speed to drop in coverage blended with enough bulk to move inside on the next down.
Youve got to be able to speed by guys on the outside and, on the inside, youve got to be able to run them over and make them miss, Missouri defensive-line coach Craig Kuligowski said. Good players can do that, and Konys had a real good year for us doing that. His sack total might have been higher if we had left him outside, but the whole team has benefited from doing this.
Being a versatile player, tough against both the run and the pass, is a point of pride for Ealy.
Im just not limited to my game, he said. I try to play an all-around game. If they need me to go play linebacker, thats what Ill do.
About the only defensive position Ealy doesnt think hed flourish at is cornerback, though he did return an interception 49 yards for a touchdown against Indiana earlier this season.
Im not like (senior cornerback) E.J. (Gaines), Ealy said. I cant run a 4.4 (40-yard dash) and I cant cover the deep third.
Thats about all Ealy cant do.
Hes able to change direction and move, which is very unusual for guys that big to be able to do those kinds of things, Pinkel said. Weve been fortunate to have a few of them around here, but hes also developed a very good work ethic and become a very good practice player.
More than anything, Ealys maturity is perhaps the biggest difference between his sophomore and junior seasons, when Ealy recorded 4 1/2 sacks and 13 tackles for a loss combined.
Hes really become a team player, junior right tackle Mitch Morse said. Not to say that he wasnt before, but the guy really cares about his team and hes the kind of guy who comes up in the locker room if stuffs looking grim to say, Hey, weve got each others backs.
That wasnt always the case.
Konys kind of crazy, junior defensive tackle Lucas Vincent said. He lives in his own world. He does his own thing and doesnt really care what youve got to say about it. ... Weve learned to work together over time and hes matured a lot. When you come in with somebody like that and see them grow up, its a really cool thing to see.
During his redshirt freshman and sophomore seasons, he had a reputation as a stats-obsessed player who freelanced too much.
My first couple years here, I was just running like a chicken with his head cut off, Ealy said. Now, Im actually listening to coach Kul and taking in everything that hes brought to the table as far as my production. Ive kind of matured into a leader of the team and just going out there trying to take on every little point that comes to me.
That effort and growth hasnt gone unnoticed.
Hes in better control of his emotions, hes a harder worker, hes more dedicated, so this season hes really been a very good teammate and beneficial to our team, Kuligowski said.
Many draft analysts project Ealy as a first-round pick, so if he opted to leave Missouri early, theres a good chance the Cotton Bowl against Oklahoma State on Jan. 3 will be his final college game.
Ill make that decision after the last game, he said. Right now, Im focused on our last game against Okie State.
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