PowerMizzou - Spring football preview: Defensive tackle
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Spring football preview: Defensive tackle

Missouri will enter kick off its first spring under new head coach Eliah Drinkwitz on Saturday, March 7. Each day until then, we will break down the roster one position group at a time. Today, we switch over to the defensive side of the ball and take a look at the defensive tackles.

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The starters: Missouri will face a challenge in replacing Jordan Elliott on the interior of the defensive line. Elliott earned the highest Pro Football Focus grade in the country among defensive tackles. But the player who started next to Elliott all of last season, Kobie Whiteside, will be back in 2020, and Missouri will hope he can take over the role of anchoring the defensive front.

Whiteside recorded 28 tackles as a junior last season, with a whopping 15 of those coming behind the line of scrimmage — 7.5 sacks and 7.5 for loss. Whiteside will almost certainly work with the first team throughout the spring and into next season. The question is who will start next to him. Akial Byers appears to be the best bet. Byers started six games in 2018, playing mainly as a defensive end but at times sliding to tackle in short-yardage situations. He appears to be more naturally suited for the interior of the line, and he had the third-most tackles at the position, behind Elliott and Whiteside, last year with 18.

Kobie Whiteside will return for his senior season after recording 7.5 sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss in 2019.
Kobie Whiteside will return for his senior season after recording 7.5 sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss in 2019. (Jordan Kodner)

The backups: Missouri is not lacking for bodies at the defensive tackle position, but no one aside from Byers and Whiteside has a college start to his name. Senior Markell Utsey saw the most action among the group last year, playing in all 12 games and recording nine tackles. He made a few head-turning plays but also drew two painful unnecessary roughness penalties that extended drives for opponents. Sophomore Darius Robinson also saw some action here and there in his first year on campus, ultimately playing in five games. Another intriguing second-year player to watch will be Isaiah McGuire. McGuire lined up at defensive end last season and played six games, but he tweeted during the offseason that the staff is moving him to the interior of the line, which would seem to fit better with his size. Finally, Antar Thompson and Chris Daniels will look to make a splash in their final seasons of eligibility. The elder statesman of the defensive line group, Thomspon is entering his third year in the program after transferring from junior college. So far in his career, he has just five tackles. Like Elliott, Daniels played his freshman season at Texas and eventually followed defensive line coach Brick Haley to Missouri, but he didn’t see the field last season as the staff tried to get him to cut weight. Missouri typically likes to rotate at least three or four defensive tackles into the game, so the Tigers would like to see a couple of these inexperienced players put together a strong spring.

Newcomers to know: Missouri signed one likely defensive tackle in the 2020 class in Mississippi native Montra Edwards. Edwards won’t arrive on campus until the summer.

Storyline to watch: How will the young players progress? Even if they aren’t yet ready to start this year, Missouri is slated to lose Whiteside, Byers, Daniels, Thompson and Utsey to graduation after the season. It would behoove the team if Robinson and McGuire can get to the point that they can at least contribute this season before stepping in as the likely starters in 2021.

PowerMizzou prediction: Barring injury, Whiteside should have a starting spot locked down. The other starter won’t be determined until after the season, but the top four defensive tackles coming out of the spring, who will be in line to play regular snaps, will be Whiteside, Byers, Utsey and Robinson.

Previous position previews:

Quarterback

Running back

Wide receiver

Tight end