Mizzou camp preview: Linebacker
On Sept. 1, Missouri will kick off the third season in the Eli Drinkwitz era with a home matchup against Louisiana Tech. The entire month before then will be used to prepare for a campaign that feels like it could go a long way toward defining Drinkwitz's Missouri tenure.
Fall camp, the official start of full-time practices, will begin Aug. 1. Each day between now and then, we will get fans set for camp by breaking down the Tiger roster one position at a time. In today's preview, we examine the linebackers, which added perhaps the most high-profile transfer on the defensive side of the ball in an effort to improve from a rough 2021 season.
Missouri's linebackers struggled to adjust to life without Nick Bolton last season, especially early in the year. Toward the end of the season, the unit played better, in part because of the emergence of Chad Bailey. Bailey, a former four-star recruit who had been sidelined by injuries during his first two seasons on campus, started the final eight games of last year. Across the final six, he logged 40 tackles, including 10 for loss. He should be the favorite to start at the MIKE spot again this season.
The Tiger staff appears to have found their other starting linebacker from the transfer portal. Ty'Ron Hopper comes to Missouri from Florida and has drawn rave reviews from coaches and players alike since spring practices. Hopper started four games last season and totaled 65 tackles on the year. He showed Missouri fans what he's capable of when he racked up 12 tackles (11 solo) against the Tigers last November. Like all newcomers, Hopper may have to work his way up the depth chart at the start of fall camp, but all signs pointing to him playing a major role on the defense.
Devin Nicholson actually has more starting experience than both of the aforementioned players. While Nicholson lost his spot midway through last season, he's started 23 games across the past three years, and that experience should make him the top backup at linebacker, probably capable of playing either the MIKE or the WILL.
Another upperclassman to keep an eye on is Chuck Hicks. Hicks transferred from Wyoming to Missouri just a few days before the 2021 season began, yet he still appeared in seven games. With a full offseason in the program, the senior could well earn a spot on the two-deep. He will also likely play a special teams role.
Other contenders for a backup spot will be Dameon Wilson, Zach Lovett, Carmycah Glass and Xavier Simmons. Wilson and Lovett are redshirt freshmen, while Glass and Simmons just hit campus this summer. It would come as a surprise if any of those four players starts this season, barring injury, but the coaching staff might try to sneak them into some games to prepare them for the future.
Camp Storyline to Watch
How good is Hopper? Missouri fans don't have to cast their minds too far back to remember a transfer linebacker who started right away and struggled. And while Blaze Alldredge did play better at the end of last season, Hopper needs to be better sooner if the defense is going to be improved at stopping the run. Blake Baker and company seem to be putting a lot of faith in Hopper to be an instant difference-maker, and his performance during camp should provide an early indication of whether he can live up to the task.
These two starting spots appear to be pretty easy to forecast. It would be a surprise if Bailey and Hopper don't take the field with the first-team defense against Louisiana Tech. If either of them were to go down with an injury, our guess is Nicholson would be the next man up.