Missouri landed three defensive linemen during last week’s signing period. None currently projects as an interior lineman, but Tigers defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski isn’t worried.
“Some guys you recruit as defensive ends and they get bigger, so they’re possibly moving inside,” Kuligowski said.
Besides, Missouri focused on recruiting interior linemen during the 2013 cycle.
“We signed a bunch of guys there last year, so we’re in pretty good shape there,” Pinkel said. “We could have went with getting one player there or none. We would have taken two possibly, depending on who was available.”
In the end, the Tigers nabbed two three-star defensive linemen, including Rocel McWilliams (6-3, 245) from Pensacola, Fla.
Missouri also flipped two defensive-end recruits late in the process, landing Walter Brady (6-3, 255) from Florence, Ala., and Spencer Williams (6-4, 230) from Jacksonville, Fla.
“It was important for us to hit at least two defensive ends this year, and we wanted to get three if we felt we could get three really good ones,” Kuligowski said. “And we feel these guys are all high-level players.”
Brady had been committed to Middle Tennessee State.
“The kid really is a dynamic football player,” Kuligowski said.
He was on a lot of teams’ radar because he moved before his senior year and also produced at a high level as a senior. Sometimes those late bloomers get overlooked.
Meanwhile, Williams, who is a three-star recruit according to Rivals.com, had been committed to Cincinnati before changing his mind and signing with the Tigers instead.
“He’s a kid that’s a really great pass rusher already,” Kuligowski said. “He may even take you back to a Brian Smith or something like that coming out of high school. He’s got good size, he’s got length and growth potential. If you look at what kind of guy we recruit, he’s that kind of guy.”
Missouri has enjoyed a tremendous run of defensive line prospects under Kuligowski, including Aldon Smith, Ziggy Hood, Sheldon Richardson and now Kony Ealy and Michael Sam.
Ealy is getting first-round buzz as an NFL Draft prospect after opting to forego his senior season, while analysts have Sam — the Associated Press SEC Player of the Year — pegged as a mid-round pick.
Unfortunately for Kuligowski, that track record doesn’t make landing big-time talent any easier.
“There’s nothing easy about any of it at any time,” Kuligowski said. “I would love to think that I could walk in there and say, ‘Look, Aldon Smith, I coached him,’ and they would just jump in the boat. But it doesn’t happen.”
Missouri returns two other productive defensive ends, Bishop Miege graduate Shane Ray and Markus Golden.
Ray, who will be a junior, racked up 4 1/2 sacks and nine tackles for a loss. He also returned a fumble 73 yards for a back-breaking touchdown in the Tigers’ 41-31 win against Oklahoma State in the Cotton Bowl.
Meanwhile, Golden, who will be a senior, finished last season with 6.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss.
Missouri running backs coach Brian Jones’ son, Grant, who signed as an athlete, could be in the mix at defensive line as well.
“That’s something that he and the staff will decide, but he’s talked about wanting to start on defense in some capacity,” Jones said. “We’ll see from there and see how big he gets and if he maintains that athleticism.”