PowerMizzou - Position Reset: Linebacker
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Position Reset: Linebacker

The second Missouri football season of the Eli Drinkwitz era has come and gone. The Tigers started the 2021 campaign slow, losing early swing games at Kentucky and Boston College and getting blown out by Tennessee, but then rallied late to win six games and attain bowl eligibility. After falling to Army on the final play of the Armed Forces Bowl, Mizzou finished the season 6-7.

Now, it's time to take stock of the roster. Missouri, like virtually every other team, has already seen several players enter the transfer portal since the season ended. More attrition is expected. In this series, we'll go position by position to break down which players are expected to return and where the team could stand to add a difference-maker. Today, we take a look at the Tiger linebackers.

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Missouri linebacker Chad Bailey provided the defense with a boost when he got promoted to a starting spot.
Missouri linebacker Chad Bailey provided the defense with a boost when he got promoted to a starting spot. (Danny Medley/USA Today)

2021 Recap

Tasked with replacing all-American Nick Bolton and learning a new defensive scheme, Missouri's linebackers really struggled to open the 2021 season. Devin Nicholson kept his starting role, while Blaze Alldredge quickly earned a starting spot after transferring to Missouri from Rice. During the first few weeks of the season, both players regularly looked lost, which contributed to the Tiger defense struggling mightily against the run.

As a result, the coaching staff shuffled the lineup. Alldredge and Nicholson started splitting snaps evenly with Chad Bailey and Jamie Pettway. Then Bailey replaced Alldredge in the starting lineup. Then Alldredge returned to the top of the depth chart but replaced Nicholson this time.

Whether it was due to finally finding the right pairing or players growing more accustomed to Steve Wilks' defense, the linebacker play improved dramatically toward the end of the season, and the run defense got better with it. Alldredge recorded 33 tackles, including six for loss, across Missouri's final three games of the season. Bailey averaged nearly seven stops per game during the final five contests, including a nine-tackle performance in Missouri's win over Florida, three of which went for a loss. Now, following Alldredge's graduation, the Tigers will have to replace their leading tackler for the second season in a row.

2022 Outlook

Departing: Blaze Alldredge, Jamie Pettway

Alldredge finished last season with 89 tackles. Missouri will miss his blitzing ability, as he led the team with 15 tackles for loss and tied for second with 4.5 sacks. Pettway entered the transfer portal in late October. He'll play next season at Florida Atlantic.

Returning: Chad Bailey, Devin Nicholson, Will Norris, Chuck Hicks, Dameon Wilson, Zachary Lovett

Expectations will be high for Bailey next season. The former four-star prospect has never lacked talent, but injuries constantly sidelined him during his during his first three seasons on campus. He struggled at times in coverage a season ago, but he brought some much needed thump in run support. After he logged 55 tackles, including 5.5 for loss, last season, look for him to take over as the vocal leader in the middle of Missouri's defense this season.

Nicholson should be in the mix to reclaim the starting spot next to Bailey. Nicholson had started 23 games in a row before being replaced by Alldredge late last season. Hicks, too, has starting experience, albeit not at Missouri. Hicks started five games at Wyoming in 2020. He transferred to Missouri shortly before the 2021 season started and didn't attain eligibility from the NCAA until midway through the season, but he still managed to get onto the field a little bit late in the year, which would suggest the coaches liked what they saw from him on the practice field. Wilson and Lovett both played sparingly during their first seasons on campus, but should be given every opportunity to challenge for a larger role during their first full offseasons at Missouri. Norris appeared in just four games before having his season cut short due to injury, and it's currently not known whether the Rock Bridge product will be healthy enough to participate in spring practices.

Incoming: Xavier Simmons

The three-star prospect flipped his commitment from Virginia Tech to Missouri last fall and is already on campus. He will participate in spring practices, which means he shouldn't be counted out of the wide open competition for playing time. There's a chance the Tigers could still bring in another transfer at the position, as well. Last week, the staff extended an offer to former Louisiana linebacker Lorenzo McCaskill.

Projected Starters: Bailey, TBD

As long as he can avoid more injuries during the offseason, Bailey looks like a safe bet to continue starting at middle linebacker. But competition for the other starting spot as well as the other positions on the two deep should be wide open. Nicholson is probably the most likely candidate to claim the other starting spot. He's shown the ability to be effective in the SEC in the past, but whether it was adjusting to life after Bolton or a new scheme last season, he appeared to regress. Perhaps he can rectify those issues during the offseason. Certainly don't count out Hicks, Wilson or Lovett, though, especially if the team doesn't add another transfer at the position.

Spring Practice storyline to watch: What does Missouri have in its second-year players? While Bailey and Nicholson could well wind up as the starters this season, the defense is going to need some sort of contributions from the likes of Wilson, Lovett and Hicks. And with both Bailey and Nicholson entering what would ordinarily be their senior seasons, spring practices should provide an early indication of whether the staff believes it has the future faces of the position on the roster or if it needs to be overhauled.

Previous Positions

Quarterback

Running back

Wide receiver

Tight end

Offensive line

Defensive tackle

Defensive end


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