March 13, 2009
Youth will be Served
4>Gary Pinkel was talking about his whole team, a largely inexperienced group that lost starters all over the field.
"We've got a lot of new faces out there, but I think we've got a lot of good athletes," Pinkel said. "I know we do. I think we've got a lot of guys that are excited about playing."
He was talking about the entire roster, but the quote may apply to no position more aptly than defensive end. Missouri lost both starters from last season. Tommy Chavis and Stryker Sulak were both multi-year starters. In 2008, the pair combined to start 27 games. They had 99 tackles and 13.5 sacks. Both are now gone. In their place, Missouri has a total of one start, 75 tackles and four sacks and a grand total of six spring practices among the top three at the position.
"That's fine. Nobody cares we're young. I don't," Pinkel said. "Youth's good."
At defensive end, youth has a chance to be far more than good for Missouri. Brian Coulter is not young. He's a senior. But he has played just one season of college football. Coulter appeared in 12 games despite being hampered by injuries well into his first season as a Tiger. He is now the elder statesman at defensive end.
Coulter had off-season surgery to repair his labrum and has gone through Missouri's first two practices in a red pullover. He will put on the pads on Saturday, but will likely be limited in full contact drills for a few more days. While he is slowed, two youngsters named Smith will try to take advantage of the chance to make an impression. Jacquies Smith played as a true freshman, piling up 46 tackles in a reserve role. Aldon Smith had the start of his college career delayed by the NCAA Clearninghouse and took a redshirt last season.
"Oh, man," Coulter starts when asked of the young Smiths, "The potential for them guys, sky's the limit for them."
"Oh man, them guys are fast," said senior defensive tackle Jaron Baston, the line's lone returning starter. "Jacquies ran a 4.6 40 the other day. Aldon, for his size and height, he has some of the best feet and hands that I've seen."
Between Coulter and Jacquies Smith, the Tiger defensive ends saw action in 26 games a season ago. They may be raw, but they are not completely green. But make no mistake, the Tigers' best days with this group of defensive ends are ahead of them.
"Those guys got to play last year, but also feel like they've got to prove themselves to everybody else," Baston said. "Whenever you've got a little bit of experience and a little bit of confidence and you feel like you've got to prove yourself to people, I mean that's a deadly mixture. I'm excited."
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