For most of the spring, Missouri has played without any returning starters at linebacker after junior Kentrell Brothers underwent surgery March 28 to repair a torn labrum during spring break.
Brothers already was the Tigers’ lone returning starter in defensive coordinator Dave Steckel’s 4-3 scheme.
The biggest blow for Missouri was losing its main man in the middle, Andrew Wilson, who ranks No. 10 all-time in program history with 333 tackles. He won the Hammer Award as the Tigers’ hardest hitter each of the last four seasons.
Donovan Bonner, a three-year starter, also graduated, leaving Missouri thin from an experience standpoint at linebacker.
“It’s a lot different,” said sophomore Michael Scherer, who has spent the last three weeks working out at middle linebacker. “We’re young. We’re very young, but it’s one of those things where you’ve got to say, ‘I’m the leader now. I’m the starter. I’ve got to do my job and I can’t worry about who’s not here. I’ve got to do my job, because the rest of the defense is counting on me.’ ”
Of course, that can be easier said than done.
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said linebacker is one of the hardest positions to learn along with quarterback and offensive line.
“There’s so many things happening,” Pinkel said. “They have keys for everything they do and counter keys. It’s remarkable, and you have to be able to execute it and get it done without thinking.”
Fortunately, what the Tigers lack in experience, they just might make up for in athleticism.
Pinkel has called this spring’s group of linebackers, which also includes senior Darvin Ruise and sophomore Donavin Newsom, perhaps the most athletic group he’s ever had at the position group.
Ideally, Brothers, who is expected to be fully healed by early June, will inherit Wilson’s spot as the starting middle linebacker.
That will allow Scherer to slide in as the starting strongside linebacker.
“Scherer knows what he’s doing,” Brothers said. “He’s physical, he’s fast and he can tackle. He’s ready to step up.”
In nickel situations, Scherer said he expects to play in the middle with Brothers lining up on the weak side.
“Michael’s really stepping up and he’s a lot different as a player right now than he was last year, and I think that’s what should happen,” Pinkel said.
Newsom and Ruise were locked in a battle for the starting spot at weakside linebacker.
Coaches wanted Ruise, who is atop the official depth chart at weakside linebacker, to slim down, so he spent a chunk of the spring working with the No. 2s.
However, Ruise is expected to get the majority of the first-team reps Saturday during Missouri’s Black and Gold scrimmage, which kicks off at 1 p.m. at Memorial Stadium, after Newsom underwent surgery Tuesday to repair a torn labrum.
“Last year was a great season for the linebackers and we were looked at as big leaders on the defense,” Brothers said. “We were pretty athletic, but I think this year we’re faster. Everybody knows all three positions, so if one of us goes down — just like what’s happening with me and Newsom — we can flip people around and still be good.”