Missouri senior defensive end Jordan Harold’s journey was among the feel-good storylines of fall camp last year.
Harold — a walk-on from McCluer North High in St. Louis by way of Northwest Missouri State, where he played his first two collegiate seasons — forced his way into the vaunted D-Line Zou rotation with a strong training camp.
He even started in Mizzou’s season-opener against West Virginia.
Indeed, it was a nice human-interest story — Harold slipping on his favorite red Timberlands and approaching former defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski in the Mizzou Athletic Training Center parking lot — but he wants to be more than a novelty in 2017.
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“You’ll see a lot more and I plan to contribute a lot more,” said Harold, who finished with 11 tackles, including 2 1/2 for a loss, with a 1/2 sack in 12 games last season. “I definitely want to be a part of this D-Line Zou and bring that back, the old attitude around it and how we used to be. People said we fell back, so that puts a chip on everybody’s shoulder. Me, already having a chip on my shoulder, I love having a chip on my shoulder.”
There’s certainly a need for greater production.
The Tigers lost Charles Harris, a first-round pick by the Dolphins in last month’s NFL Draft, early to the NFL, while Spencer Williams and Josh Moore elected to transfer during the offseason.
Fellow senior Marcell Frazier was limited during the spring after suffering a broken arm, so it’s fair to wonder who’s going to step up and give MU havoc-wreaking production off the edge next fall.
One thing is certain, the defensive ends are happier after being unleashed midseason rather than trying to play two gaps in the read-and-react scheme coach Barry Odom and defensive coordinator DeMontie Cross tried to install last offseason.
“We got a lot of things really off just growing together,” Harold said. “Last year, we were all over the place trying to learn a new scheme we had. But this year, we know the scheme and we’re just coming together as a defense and as a whole team really.”
“Everybody’s a lot happier. You can see it. Everybody’s happier, between the coaches and the players. Things are better, especially between the players. Things are way better.”
DEFENSIVE ENDS (8)
Project depth (string): (1) Marcell Frazier, senior; Nate Howard, junior; (2) Tre Williams, redshirt freshman; Jordan Harold, senior; (3) Nate Anderson, junior; Franklin Agbasimere, sophomore.
Potential impact additions: Nate Anderson, junior; Caleb Sampson, freshman; Chris Turner, freshman.
Analysis: Frazier’s final stats — 34 tackles, including 9 1/2 for a loss, with 8 1/2 sacks — look fairly impressive, but there’s a caveat. The bulk of that production came in the season’s final three games. Frazier, a junior college transfer entering his third year at Mizzou, recorded 6 1/2 of those sacks and 7 1/2 of those tackles for a loss in wins against Vanderbilt and Arkansas or at Tennessee from mid-November on.
Can Frazier sustain that production (or something close to it) through an entire season? Or were those three games an aberration? The Tigers didn’t get a sneak peek during the Black & Gold Spring Game because Fraizer was sidelined with a broken arm. He should be healthy in plenty of time for fall camp and Missouri needs him to be the guy who finished last season with a flurry.
Similar questions dog Howard, who finished with 12 tackles, including two for a loss, as a true freshman in 2015. A knee injury slowed Howard last season, but he looked good during spring practice. It remains to be seen if he can be anywhere near as productive as Charles Harris opposite Frazier.
Harold and Williams also factor heavily into the rotation. Harold is a high-motor guy who impressed last August during camp and should reasonably be expected to improve with a year of experience under his belt. Williams is a former top prospect who redshirted last season and could excel as a physical freak or still need time to adjust to the college game.
The Tigers have insurance in the form of Anderson, a junior college transfer from the New Mexico Military Institute. He had 32 tackles, including 5 1/2 for a loss, with 1/2 sack in 11 games as a freshman and bumped that production to 31 tackles, including 13 1/2 for a loss, with five sacks in nine games as a sophomore.
Agbasimere was sidelined after foot surgery during spring practice — a setback for the relative newcomer to football who needs all the reps he can get. Sampson and Turner will need strong fall camps to crack the depth or likely will wind up as redshirt candidates.
Overall grade: C+. If Fraizer has a monster season, building off his strong close to 2016, this grade is too low. But with a new position coach, Brick Haley arrived from Texas after Jackie Shipp was fired late last season, there are a lot of question marks at the position. There also aren’t any sure-fire first-round NFL Draft-type talents apparent on a roster that’s been loaded with them the last seasons. Missouri (and its fans) have been spoiled at that position. Will the trend continue? Or is regression to the mean coming?
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