Missouri had two of the top four tacklers in the Southeastern Conference last season and both of them return, giving the Tigers a salty and experienced linebacker group.
Senior weak-side linebacker Kentrell Brothers, who already is being projected by some as a first-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, finished second in the SEC with 122 tackles last season. That was tied for the 15th most in a single season in program history.
The Tigers haven’t had a returning linebacker with that kind of production since 2009 when Sean Weatherspoon was entering his senior season.
“He’s been in the games; he’s been in the battle,” first-year defensive coordinator Barry Odom said. “He’s been out there when the game’s been tight, when he’s been up, when he’s been down. So, experience, No. 1, you’ve got a great couple guys in there that have played a lot of snaps. That’s important. I wouldn’t want to trade experience for anything. And he’s an intelligent football player.”
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But it doesn’t stop with Brothers.
Junior middle linebacker Michael Scherer also is back after recording 114 tackles, the fourth-most in the SEC, during his first season as a starter in 2014.
Together, Brothers and Scherer give Missouri one of the best linebacker tandems in the conference and a warm, comfy security blanket for Odom, who coaches the linebackers.
“I like the way that they’re coming out and their demeanor, attacking the field and trying to lead,” Odom said. “That’s good. … That helps me. Believe me, I’m going to mess it up plenty. Stec (former defensive coordinator Dave Steckel) did a great job coaching those guys, a great job, so the foundation for those guys stepping in, hopefully, I won’t mess them up too much.”
Newsom ran a 4.47-second 40-yard dash during winter conditioning. His athleticism has never been a question, but Missouri is banking that last year’s experience helped ramp up his instincts and IQ for this season.
Meanwhile, Pinkel said Green is enjoyed his best spring as a Tiger.
“I think our linebacking corps overall is pretty good,” Pinkel said. “We’re doing some really good things.”
If there’s a stamp Odom is hoping to put on the season, it’s all about hustle.
“He just wants to make sure we run to the ball …,” Brothers said. “He says we should be the fastest team in the country. We need to get to the ball, we need to hit them hard and we need to get ready for the next play.”
MISSOURI ROSTER: LINEBACKERS
Returning players: Brandon Lee (6-2, 220, fr.), Kentrell Brothers (6-1, 235, sr.), Grant Jones (6-3, 225, fr.), Donavin Newsom (6-2, 230, jr.), Michael Scherer (6-3, 235, jr.), Tenner Hull (6-0, 215, so.), Joey Burkett (6-2, 210, so.), Eric Beisel (6-3, 225, so.), Clarence Green (6-0, 220, sr.), Roderick Winters (5-11, 225, fr.), Christian Williams (6-0, 235, jr.)
Incoming players: Terez Hall (6-2, 215, fr.), Franklin Agbasimere (6-2, 215, fr.), Ferrod Gardner (6-2, 200, fr.), Jacob Trump (6-3, 225, fr.)
Projected starter: W Brothers, M Scherer, S Newsom
Analysis: Like the secondary, Missouri’s linebacker corps is a position of strength for the 2015 squad. Brothers, who led the Tigers and finished second in the SEC with 122 tackles last season, and Scherer, who was fourth in the SEC with 114 tackles, return to anchor the middle of MU’s defense. Both seem like good fits in first-year defensive coordinator Barry Odom’s system.
Newsom, who started four games at strong-side linebacker, also returns and is backed up once against by Green. Missouri gets thin from there in terms of game experience, but not talent. Burkett and Winters backup Brothers; Lee and Beisel are both getting work with the second team in fall camp behind Scherer; and, Jones and Hall are listed on the depth at strong-side linebacker.
Agbasimere is likely headed for a redshirt season as a raw relative newcomer to the gridiron, but he’s a very intriguing developmental prospect.