For good reason, Missouri’s defensive ends garnered plenty of attention last season.
Former Tiger Michael Sam was the SEC defensive player of the year and team MVP, while Kony Ealy, one of a record number of early NFL Draft entries, projects as a possible first-round pick in May.
Of course, Missouri’s second-string defensive ends were terrific, too.
Markus Golden, who will be a senior, racked up 55 tackles, including 13 for a loss with 6 1/2 sacks and eight quarterback hurries.
Shane Ray, who will be a junior, finished with 39 tackles, including nine for a loss with 4 1/2 sacks and 11 quarterback hurries.
The duo are expected to form one of the most lethal pass-rush combinations in the SEC next season.
Of course, Missouri’s hopes for another dominant season from the defensive line hinge as much on the returning starters on the interior as well as the search for depth.
Senior nose guard Lucas Vincent and senior defensive tackle Matt Hoch were stalwarts inside for the Tigers, gobbling up double teams and allowing the ends to work more effectively.
Vincent and Hoch combined for 75 tackles, including nine for a loss with 4 1/2 sacks. That’s rock solid production for an interior tandem, but even more will be expected with an extra year of experience starting in the SEC under their belts.
“Matt and Lucas are two of the hardest workers on this D line,” Golden said. “I expect a lot from those guys. I feel like they can come in and make just as much plays as the D ends can. Those guys are some beasts. Lucas he can plug those holes and move guys around. Matt is so quick off the ball. Those guys can make just as many plays as me and Shane can.”
Vincent, an Olathe North graduate, said he has a better feel for his role and expects better production in his final season.
“We all know what it takes to play in the SEC and we can obviously get it done,” he said. “You have to play physical. You’re going against guys that are about 350 (pounds) every week. There’s no weeks off like there used to be. It’s a constant you-have-to-play-physical grind every week, play in and play out.”
It’s easier said than done, but having experienced the grind for a full season he’s ready to meet the challenge.
“I need to get better at my consistency of play,” Vincent said. “I felt like last year I was still gaining confidence from my torn pec. I feel like this year I can come in and dominate.”
Vincent also hopes to impart his knowledge to an up-and-coming crop of Missouri defensive linemen, which includes redshirt freshman defensive end Charles Harris from Lincoln Prep.
Golden singled out redshirt freshman defensive tackle DeQuinton Osborne as a standout so far this spring, adding depth on the interior along with sophomores Harold Brantley and Josh Augusta.
The Tigers also hope for contributions from some combination of reserve defensive end Marcus Loud and backup interior linemen Nate Crawford, Rickey Hatley and A.J. Logan.