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The difference between the 2010 Missouri Tigers and the groups that came before them was the defense. Missouri has won 10 or more games three times in the past four seasons. But, in each of those seasons, the offense was routinely put into shootouts by an inconsistent defense. That changed in 2010, as the defense allowed an average of only 16.1 PPG and even found itself carrying the offense on more than one occasion.
This year's group has the pieces to be an even better unit.
Gone is playmaking defensive end Aldon Smith. But, Jacquies Smith (10 TFL, 5.5 sacks in '10) and Brad Madison (11 TFL, 7.5 sacks in '10) won't skip a beat. Freshman Kony Ealy will help to prevent any attrition on the ends. In the middle, Dominique Hamilton is back from the ankle injury that sidelined him for a couple of months in 2010, and Sheldon Richardson—once one of the nation's top defensive line recruits—looks to be a difference maker on the heels of a junior college stint.
Linebacker Zavier Gooden led the Tigers in tackles in 2010. He has the ability to dominate for Mizzou on the weakside. Elsewhere among the linebacking core, senior Will Ebner is the incumbent starter in the middle but needs to stay healthy, and sophomore Andrew Wilson appears to be the guy on the strong side.
Despite returning only one starter—strong safety Kenji Jackson—big things are expected of the Missouri secondary. Kip Edwards and EJ Gaines should make plays in droves on the corners, and there are plenty of folks excited about sophomore Tavon Bolden at free safety. Lack of experience be damned, the secondary could emerge as a strength for this squad.