Will the Mizzou defensive line wreak havoc on the SEC?

Heading into 2020, the Mizzou defensive line appeared to be one of the team’s strengths. It had veteran presence with Kobie Whiteside, who led the Tigers with 7.5 sacks in 2019, and young guys with potential to blossom into strong pass-rushers in Trajan Jeffcoat and Isaiah McGuire. However, Whiteside tore his MCL against Tennessee and wasn’t at full strength for the rest of the season, and the unit finished ninth in the SEC in sacks per game. 

Jeffcoat and McGuire stood out in Whiteside’s absence, though. Jeffcoat earned All-SEC Second Team honors after earning a sack against six different units, while McGuire came on strong as a sophomore and concluded the year on a high note with two sacks against Mississippi State. But, without Markell Utsey and Tre Williams on the roster to provide depth, the Tigers will look to get more from its entire rotation this year.

Adding a healthy Whiteside back into the fold is vital for the Mizzou defensive front. Not only does it shore up a nose tackle spot that never found consistency last year, but he’s a ferocious attacker with experience over multiple years competing in the SEC. Whiteside, Akial Byers and Chris Turner have spent the last four years building chemistry with each other, and the trio will contribute a lot of the reps across the line.

The Tigers will also look for Jeffcoat and McGuire to continue improving as pass-rushers, in addition to Darius Robinson. At 6’5” and 290 pounds, he’s one of the biggest athletes on the line, and significant snaps in eight games last year should translate to improvement in his junior year. If he can take a big leap, then the Tigers can truly rotate guys in and out without losing on-field ability, especially important considering how durability was a big concern for the defense toward the back end of the season.

There will be guys behind them in Cannon York, Jatorian Hansford and the trio of junior college recruits in Ben Key, Daniel Robledo and Realus George Jr. However, the group has little Mizzou experience compared to the rest of the line. There’s also six freshman defensive linemen on the roster, including Mekhi Wingo, a guy who impressed in fall camp and could see early work ahead of the four-game redshirt deadline. But, they’ll need time to learn a new defense under both a new defensive coordinator, Steve Wilks, and new defensive line coach, Jethro Franklin. 

Franklin spent the offseason leading one of Mizzou’s deepest positions on the roster, but there is a big stratification between the guys up top and many of the newcomers. His unit is going to be crucial in implementing Wilks’ zone defense scheme, as pressuring opposing quarterbacks will lead to moments where the secondary can pounce on misreads and throws in heavy traffic. Obviously, strides must be made across the board to be among the best defensive lines in the SEC. But a duo of Whiteside and Jeffcoat leading an experienced front poses to be a formidable sight for any teams with the Tigers on their schedules.

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