PowerMizzou - Roster review: Linebacker
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Roster review: Linebacker

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Since the 2019 football season ended, a lot has changed for the Missouri football program. The Tigers fired head coach Barry Odom on Nov. 30 and 10 days later announce the hire of Eliah Drinkwitz. Drinkwitz had just eight days to salvage a class for the early signing period, all while slowly piecing together his staff of assistants. Drinkwitz appears to have the defensive side of the ball set, but will hire two more offensive assistants.

Now that the dust has finally begun to settle, it's time to take a look back at the 6-6 season. In this series, we will go position-by-position to evaluate the performance in 2019 and the pieces In place for 2020. Today, we take a look at the linebackers.

Linebacker Nick Bolton will return after a breakout sophomore season for Missouri.
Linebacker Nick Bolton will return after a breakout sophomore season for Missouri. (Jordan Kodner)

2019 recap

After a rough debut against Wyoming, Missouri's starting linebacker duo of Nick Bolton and Cale Garrett looked for a while like it might be the best in the SEC, if not the country. Between weeks two and five, when Garrett suffered a season-ending pectoral tendon tear, the duo combined to force six turnovers and score four touchdowns. Ultimately, that rate could not be maintained, especially after Garrett left the lineup, but Bolton continued his productivity and put together a breakout sophomore season. Bolton, who took on the defensive signal-calling duties after Garrett's injury, finished with 103 tackles, including 8.5 for loss, and two interceptions. He was voted to the all-SEC first team by the Associated Press. A few different players saw time at middle linebacker after Garrett went down: sophomore Christian Wilkins, freshman Devin Nicholson and junior Jamal Brooks. Nicholson played the most of the three. He started five games and recorded 24 tackles on the season.

Looking ahead

Departing: Cale Garrett

Returning: Nick Bolton, Devin Nicholson, Jamal Brooks, Aubrey Miller, Cameron Wilkins, Chad Bailey, Jamie Pettway

Getting Bolton back in 2020 should be huge for Missouri. By season's end, Bolton was the clear leader of the defense, and he should be a legitimate all-American candidate heading into his junior year. The middle linebacker spot will be more of a mystery. As mentioned above, Nicholson drew five starts despite being a true freshman who had only been on campus since June. He didn't make a ton of highlight-reel plays, but after a full offseason in the program, he could certainly continue to develop. Brooks and Miller have the most experience of the group, though neither has ever played consistent snaps. Miller drew high praise from the coaching staff last year before his season was ended by a knee injury in the opener. His physical traits have never been in question, but thus far in his career he has mainly played weakside linebacker rather than in the middle. Bailey and Pettway were both prized recruits who have been limited by injuries but could factor into the rotation if they get healthy.

Incoming: Will Norris

The Columbia native could find his way onto the field as a true freshman on special teams, but given the competition at linebacker, it would be surprise Ii he saw much playing time in 2020 barring a rash of injuries.

Projected 2020 starters: Nick Bolton, Devin Nicholson

As long as he's healthy, Bolton is a sure thing to start on the weak side. The other spot is harder to predict, especially given that the group will have a new position coach this year. Right now, we'll give the edge to Nicholson, as he clearly showed the previous staff something to earn so many snaps as a true freshman and should only benefit from the experience, but there are legitimately five guys who could win the starting job without it being a total shock.

Offseason storylines to monitor:

Can Bailey and Pettway contribute? Bailey is the highest-rated recruit to sign with Missouri since Gary Pinkel retired, but he has battled a broken thumb and an ACL tear since arriving on campus. Pettway's signing drew excitement as well, but a knee injury forced him to redshirt during his first season on campus. Bailey and Pettway could be as talented as anyone in the Tiger linebacking corps, and with an open competition for one of the starting spots, they could have a chance to show it.

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