University of Missouri

Between Nick Bolton and Aubrey Miller, which MU linebacker is slated to start?

Nick Bolton’s baptism into college football could have come in a more favorable situation: at Alabama.

After Missouri lost starting linebacker Terez Hall in the first half of the Tigers’ 39-10 loss to Alabama last October, the true freshman made his collegiate debut at Bryant-Denny Stadium against the top-ranked Tide.

Despite the circumstances, Bolton held his own. The 6-foot linebacker had eight tackles for a Missouri defense that held the Tide to nine points in the second half.

A year ago, Bolton was the talk of Missouri’s fall camp. Defensive coordinator Ryan Walters raved about Bolton’s ability to make the same pre-snap reads as middle linebacker Cale Garrett, while head coach Barry Odom praised him for his maturity at his age.

Bolton’s problem in 2018 was the depth MU had in front of him. Missouri had Garrett, Hall and Brandon Lee starting at its three linebacker spots, making it hard for Bolton to see the field. This year, Bolton is listed as a starter alongside Garrett, and Odom recently said the sophomore’s play will be crucial to the success of the defense.

“He played some meaningful snaps last year, but again, the ability to take that experience from last year and then capitalize it, he’s going to have to play better,” Odom said. “He is a playmaker. He has a chance of being a really good player. We need consistency, and he has to do it for as many plays as we can get out of it. The thing about Nick, one of the things that’s really exciting as a coach, is he wants to be great.”

Bolton credits Hall for helping him adjust to the defense and get to a place where he feels he’s prepared to start. Bolton followed Hall everywhere he went in 2018, learning how Hall broke down film to even observing how Hall handled certain social situations. Hall is now with the New England Patriots after going undrafted in April.

While Bolton is currently sitting atop the depth chart, he’s being pushed by junior Aubrey Miller. Miller also played behind Hall, Garrett and Lee in 2018 but has had a strong preseason camp.

“We got him in with the ones for a while,” said Vernon Hargreaves, MU’s linebackers coach. “We feel good about putting (Miller) in the game and him going out there and being effective.”

Miller continues to push Bolton for playing time at linebacker but has emerged as another asset to MU in the recruiting world. Many players and coaches consider Miller to be the Tigers’ best recruiter when hosting potential prospects. The 6-foot-2 linebacker has hosted a number of Missouri’s current 13 commitments on their official visits and hasn’t missed on one yet.

Hargreaves said Miller doesn’t hold back when talking to prospects and their families, explaining what the depth at each position and what they should expect if they come to MU.

“I’m always going to keep it real,” Miller said. “Whenever they come in I tell them the truth. I don’t tell them what they want to hear; I tell them what they need to hear.”

Bolton and Miller will both likely see significant playing time on the field Aug. 31, when Missouri opens the season at Wyoming, and they could spend part of the season trading places on the depth chart depending upon how one is playing.

Bolton agreed that his collegiate debut didn’t come in the best of circumstances, but he looks at it as a blessing because it did wonders for his confidence.

“My confidence has gone up a lot over the last winter and going into the spring and now into the fall,” he said. “Every rep I took in the fall helped put me in a better position.”

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Alex Schiffer has been covering the Missouri Tigers for The Star since October 2017. He came in second place for magazine-length feature writing by the U.S. Basketball Writer’s Association in 2018 and graduated from Mizzou in 2017.