Missouri desperately needed depth at defensive tackle.
Injuries to then-sophomore Terry Beckner Jr. and then-freshman Markell Utsey took a hefty toll during the 2016 season.
Graduation — and with it the loss of Josh Augusta, who signed with the Patriots, and Rickey Hatley, who will try out with the Texans — dealt another blow to the Tigers’ interior defensive line.
It’s a big reason why Mizzou made the position such a priority during the 2017 recruiting cycle, signing five defensive tackles among eight total defensive linemen.
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The first among that new wave of talent — junior Rashad Brandon, a 6-foot-3, 305-pound junior college transfer from ASA College in Brooklyn, N.Y. — arrived in time for spring practice.
And he turned heads during those 15 practices and scrimmages.
“That kid’s going to be really good,” junior quarterback Drew Lock said. “I don’t know why I just called him a kid, because he’s definitely not a kid. He’s definitely a man, but he’s going to be great for us and I’m super excited about what he can do.”
Brandon, a graduate of St. Anthony’s High in Jersey City, N.J., finished with 34 tackles, including 6 1/2 for a loss, with 3 1/2 sacks in six games last season for ASA College and projects as a valuable addition for MU in 2017.
“He’s got really good quickness,” Odom said. “He’s been here for a short time, but has really picked up what we’re doing scheme wise, and I think he’s got an opportunity to continue to develop and be another guy inside that can really help us.”
Odom was thrilled with Brandon’s advanced skill-set and progress throughout spring practice.
“He always ended up making a couple tackle for losses, he’s been assignment sound, his on-snap footwork and hand placement has been nice, so the understanding of what we need out of that spot — he’s got a really good feel for it,” Odom said.
Brandon also impressed teammates with how quickly adapted to Mizzou’s scheme and culture.
“Rashad can be really good,” senior defensive end Jordan Harold said. “I don’t even think he knows how good he can be yet. When Rashad reaches his full potential, it’s going to be crazy. He’ll probably be one of the best D-tackles to come out of Mizzou. He’s good.”
DEFENSIVE TACKLES (10)
Project depth (string): (1) Terry Beckner Jr., junior; A.J. Logan, senior; (2) Rashad Brandon, junior; Markell Utsey, sophomore; (3) Malik Young, junior; Walter Palmore, junior; (4) Akial Byers, freshman; Tyrell Jacobs, sophomore; (5) Kobie Whiteside, freshman; Adam Roland, junior.
Potential impact additions: Rashad Brandon, junior; Akial Byers, freshman; Walter Palmore, junior; Kobie Whiteside, freshman; Malik Young, junior.
Analysis: Depth is no longer an issue at defensive tackle after bringing in three junior-college players — including Brandon, who enrolled early, and former Eastern Arizona College teammates Walter Palmore and Malik Young, who chose Mizzou instead of Florida. Brandon’s play in the spring was among the brightest spots for the regrouping Tigers.
Unfortunately, two key returning players, Beckner and Utsey, weren’t able to participate fully in spring practice. Both are coming off ACL surgery after injuries suffering torn knee ligaments during games last fall. Beckner is an NFL-caliber talent who recovered well from an ACL repair the previous offseason on his other knee, while proved to be a promising late addition in the 2016 recruiting class.
Logan remains the backbone of that group. He’s the only senior and the most-experienced player with 27 games game, including 12 starts last season. Mizzou will hope for more production from Logan, who has averaged 18 tackles and two for a loss the last two seasons, or he could get bypassed on the depth chart.
Byers and Whiteside will be intriguing players to watch during fall camp. Byers committed to Alabama before signing with a junior college in February and ultimately deciding to come to Mizzou next fall instead. He’s a talented player, who played with 2017 quarterback signee Taylor Powell at Fayetteville (Ark.) High. Whiteside is strong as an ox, but he’s a bit raw. Either could be a redshirt candidate or either could force their way into the defensive tackle rotation with a strong camp.
Overall grade: B. There is enough experience there to be comfortable, especially with Beckner and Logan along with three junior college transfers. Still, none have proven they can be dominant in the SEC yet. Unlike last year, however, Missouri has potential solutions on the depth chart if the rotation struggles early in the season and that should pay off handsomely during the 2017 season.
QUARTERBACKS | Drew Lock settles in atop quarterback depth chart
RUNNING BACKS | Damarea Crockett sets sights sky high for 2017
WIDE RECEIVERS | Receivers eye consistency to bolster offense
CORNERBACKS | Graduation takes hefty toll on cornerbacks’ experience
LINEBACKERS | More settled Cale Garrett hopes to help defense rebound