The Missouri Tigers' defensive depth chart is one of the deepest in the entire Big 12 conference.
Six offensive starters return in 2011, with a trio of new starters in the secondary and some flexibility at the linebacker spots. The Tigers run a 4-3 defense and use a very deep rotation at the defensive line and in nickel packages.
Missouri had one of the best defenses in the nation this past season. Although it is missing almost half of its starters from 2010, many of the new starters played significant snaps in every game and could be more talented than their predecessors.
Here's a look at Missouri's projected defensive depth chart for the season opener against Miami (Ohio).
Jacquies Smith: 6'4", 255 lbs., Senior
Michael Sam: 6'3", 255 lbs., Sophomore (RS)
Senior Jacquies Smith is the unquestioned starter at defensive end for Missouri going into 2011.
Smith is one of the leaders of this defense looking to improve on his second-team All-Big 12 performance in 2010. He recorded 35 tackles (10 for loss) and 5.5 sacks this past year and scored a defensive touchdown against Kansas St.
While Smith will play in most key situations, sophomore Michael Sam saw a ton of action last year and posted impressive numbers in a back-up role. Sam recorded 24 tackles, 3.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, a field goal block and a safety in his first active season.
It's a deep position on the roster, with all-conference player Smith looking to dominate in 2011.
Terrell Resonno: 6'5", 295 lbs., Senior
Jimmy Burge: 6'2", 300 lbs., Junior (RS)
Senior Terrell Resonno did a nice job in his first season as the starter and sits atop of the depth chart at defensive tackle going into 2011.
Resonno was one of the top run defenders for the Tigers defensive line last season, notching 35 tackles and two sacks. He's not overwhelming as a defender, but he has sound fundamentals and plays his role well amongst the other star defensive lineman.
Behind him is junior Jimmy Burge, who started six games last season in place of an injured Dominique Hamilton. Burge is a prototypical nose tackle capable out taking on double-teams.
The real story at this position will be the pending arrival of former 2009 5-star recruit Sheldon Richardson. Richard was a top five overall player in high school and he could be the wild card of Missouri's entire defense if he's as good as advertised.
Overall, Resonno will see the most time at the position with Richardson (potentially) making things interesting in fall camp.
Dominique Hamilton: 6'5", 305 lbs., Senior
Marvin Foster: 6'2", 285 lbs., Sophomore (RS)
Dominique Hamilton was an afterthought to Mizzou fans in 2010 until a foot injury cost him his season and completely changed Missouri's run defense.
Hamilton started the first seven games of 2010, recording 20 tackles and 1.5 sacks. The week after he was lost for the season, Missouri was shredded for more than 300 rushing yards against Nebraska. Hamilton is integral to the team's rush defense and will be ready to go when fall camp opens on August 4th.
Sophomore Marvin Foster didn't make a lot of noise last season, but looked like an improved player in spring practices. He finds himself behind a wealth of talent at every defensive line spot, so look for Foster to spend most of the year on the sidelines.
If Hamilton can stay healthy, he should be one of the better defensive tackles in the Big 12 with Foster learning from the veteran starter.
Brad Madison: 6'4", 265 lbs., Junior (RS)
Kony Ealy: 6'5", 250 lbs., Freshman (RS)
This is probably the most talented position on the Missouri squad with junior Brad Madison leading the way at defensive end.
Madison was a beast for the Tigers in 2010, hauling in 32 tackles and a team-leading 7.5 sacks. He was a third-string player last season and still managed to earn second-team All-Big 12 honors. Madison is an animal and the Tiger coaching staff is salivating at his potential as a full-time starter.
While Madison was the Spring Team MVP, nobody was talked about more this offseason than freshman defensive end Kony Ealy. Ealy dominated spring practices and draws favorable comparisons to recent first-round draft pick Aldon Smith.
Madison will be the star on defense in 2011, but don't count out Ealy making a big splash in his first active season for Missouri.
Andrew Wilson: 6'3", 230 lbs., Sophomore (RS)
Donovan Bonner: 6'3", 235 lbs., Sophomore (RS)
Redshirt sophomore Andrew Wilson enters 2011 as the starting strong side linebacker following a solid freshman campaign.
Wilson was a major special teams contributor in 2010, earning the Special Teams MVP award. He was also counted on to start three games at linebacker in place of the injured Will Ebner. All in all, Wilson recorded 42 tackles in a well-rounded freshman season.
Donovan Bonner missed all of 2010 with a knee injury after seeing major playing time as a true freshman. He also missed most of spring practices due to injury. The coaching staff believes that if Bonner can stay healthy he could challenge for one of the starting linebacker spots.
But for now, Wilson moves over to the strong side after playing middle linebacker while Bonner tries to stay on the field in 2011.
Will Ebner: 6'1", 230 lbs., Senior
Luke Lambert: 6'3", 230 lbs., Senior (RS)
Easily the least stable position on the Missouri depth chart, seniors Will Ebner and Luke Lambert will fight for the starting job for all of fall practices.
Ebner followed a strong 2009 season with a disappointing 2010. He may be the toughest player on the roster, but injuries plagued him all year and hindered his performance against the run. He still managed to record 47 tackles in only eight games.
Luke Lambert returns after being granted a medical redshirt for the 2011 season. He was a captain last year and looked like a top-level linebacker before a hamstring and a knee injury halted his senior year three games into 2010.
The biggest concern here is whether or not these two players can stay healthy enough to contribute consistently.
If they can, Missouri will welcome back two very experienced middle linebackers who can lay devastating hits onto opponents.
Zaviar Gooden: 6'2", 225 lbs., Junior
Darvin Ruise: 6'2", 225 lbs., Freshman (RS)
Junior Zaviar Gooden provides some much needed good news in the linebacking corps for 2011.
Gooden was a force as a true sophomore in 2010, leading Missouri with 85 tackles and five total turnovers. Gooden is arguably the best athlete on the entire team and uses his blazing speed to mow down ball carriers and receivers alike.
He's been named to the watch lists for best linebacker and best defensive player going into 2011, as well as the first-team preseason All-Big 12.
Backing up all-everything Gooden is redshirt freshman Darvin Ruise. Ruise got meaningful playing time with the first team in spring practices thanks to injuries at middle linebacker. But he's a converted quarterback and still learning the linebacker position.
Simply put, Gooden will be the man for Missouri next season with Ruise taking notes on the Tiger sidelines.
E.J. Gaines: 5'10", 190 lbs., Sophomore
Trey Hobson: 5'11", 185 lbs., Senior
Sophomore E.J. Gaines replaces long-time starter Carl Gettis at the cornerback slot this season.
Gaines played more than any true freshman last year, raking in 26 tackles in rotating duty. He ended up starting in place of the aforementioned Gettis against Kansas and proved his worth to the coaching staff. Gaines really excelled this spring and emerged as one of the top playmakers in the Missouri secondary.
That being said, Gaines is young, so expect senior Trey Hobson to contribute a lot this season. He was the most improved defensive back this spring and gave the Tigers coaching staff plenty of reason to play him in 2011.
Also, walk-on Randy Ponder really turned some heads this spring intercepting multiple passes in scrimmages.
What Gaines lacks in experience he makes up for in athleticism and playmaking, while Hobson provides stability as a back-up.
Kenji Jackson: 5'10", 200 lbs., Senior
Kenronte Walker: 6'0", 205 lbs., Junior (RS)
Senior Kenji Jackson returns following an outstanding junior season of huge hits and great run support.
He's by far the most experienced player in the secondary, with 38 games and 22 starts to his name. He ranked fourth on the team in tackles with 66 and grabbed a pair of interceptions manning the strong safety spot in 2010.
Jackson may be the biggest hitter on the team and his leadership will be relied on heavily with three new starters in the secondary around him.
Behind Jackson this season will be junior college transfer Kenronte Walker. After redshirting last season, Walker showed flashes of big-time talent in spring practices and could challenge for the starting free safety spot if he comes to play.
Look for Jackson to be a leader of the Missouri defense as the strong safety in 2011.
Tavon Bolden: 6'2", 205 lbs., Sophomore (RS)
Matt White: 6'0", 185 lbs., Sophomore (RS)
The free safety battle is not quite over, but it looks like Tavon Bolden has the lead to start for Missouri on opening day in 2011.
Bolden was a special teamer in 2010 and primarily watched from the sidelines on defensive snaps. But the sophomore came on strong this spring, earning the team award for most improved safety. He's a terrific athlete with great make-up speed for the position.
Competing for the job is another redshirt sophomore, Matt White. White is a little smaller than Bolden but very solid fundamentally and athletic enough for safety.
It looks like Bolden will eventually win the starting job, but look for both White and Bolden to play significant minutes for the Tigers secondary in 2011.
Kip Edwards: 6'1", 195 lbs., Junior (RS)
Robert Steeples: 6'1", 195 lbs., Junior (RS)
As head coach Gary Pinkel has stated before, junior Kip Edwards was basically a starter last season and returns in 2011 as the unquestioned cornerback.
Edwards was the nickelback for Missouri in 2010, recording 36 tackles, an interception, a sack and eight pass-breakups. Edwards was the best man-to-man defender for the Tigers last year and will be counted on to cover some of the elite receivers in the conference.
Robert Steeples back-ups Edwards following the strongest spring campaign of his Tigers career. He could see time in passing situations and is one of the more underrated defensive backs on the roster.
Overall, Edwards should be very good for the Tigers in his first full season starting while Steeples vies to make an impact in dime packages.