COLUMBIA Kony Ealy can’t avoid the comparisons.
The Missouri football team's 6-foot-5-inch, 275-pound defensive end is gifted. Even in the simplest of defensive line drills, Ealy's power is evident. In post-practice conditioning drills, he runs more like a linebacker than a defensive lineman.
• Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said the defense narrowly defeated the offense in a “very, very competitive” day of practice.
• Receiver Wesley Leftwich, a former Hickman standout, strained his hamstring when his foot slid in the grass.
• Cornerback Xavier Smith was in a walking boot. Coaches said he suffered a foot bruise on Sunday. The X-ray came back negative, and cornerbacks coach Cornell Ford said he expects Smith back in the next day or two.
• Defensive lineman and Rock Bridge grad A.J. Logan was held out for the fifth consecutive day with a knee ailment.
— Alexander Smith
So when he hears the names Sheldon Richardson and Aldon Smith, Ealy smiles. He knows what’s coming.
Richardson and Smith showed a similar blend of size and speed on the Tigers' defensive line, and both ended up as first-round picks in the NFL Draft.
Now it’s Ealy’s turn.
“Every time I talk to those guys, they beat me up so much about ‘Kony, it’s your time. It’s your chance to shine,’” Ealy said.
When asked about his NFL future, Ealy is reserved. He reluctantly admits to submitting his name to the NFL Draft Advisory Board in the spring to see where he stood in the eyes of professional scouts.
Leaving for the NFL after his sophomore season was never the plan, but there’s no harm in testing the waters and finding out which areas of his game need work.
Not that Ealy needed to be told where he needs to improve. When asked that question, he gets more and more frustrated detailing his poor hand use and inability to finish sacks when getting in the backfield. There is noticeable pain on his face at the mere mention of his 3.5-sack, 2012 season.
“I know this without hearing it from anyone else,” Ealy said.
“I have to right the wrong from last year. I should have had 15 sacks. I missed two sacks every game. You throw those numbers out there, you get high numbers. You’re talking about being a first-rounder.”
That’s all secondary to Ealy, though. The bigger question, and the one that he’s tired of answering, is how the Tigers will replace Kony’s relative and former roommate Sheldon Richardson?
“He’s moved on,” Ealy said. “He’s in a whole different place right now. We can’t compare him to anyone else. You can’t worry about who was here and who’s gone. You just worry about who’s next.”
But Ealy would be lying if he said he hasn’t thought about being Missouri’s next star defensive lineman. He talks to both Richardson and Smith on a regular basis and watched, as Richardson, who Ealy says is a distant cousin, walked on stage at the NFL Draft.
For Ealy, that’s all motivation.
“I’m trying to get my own,” Ealy said. “I’m trying to be my own person.”
The Tigers’ defensive line coach, Craig Kuligowski knows it’s important for Ealy to not look to far ahead. But he can’t complain about the motivation Ealy has shown this offseason. He has constantly been in the weight room, adding more weight to his already massive frame.
Ealy, Richardson and Smith are all unique, but Kuligowski, who has coached the defensive line at Missouri since 2001, notices one parallel between the three.
“They’re obviously blessed by God,” Kuligowski said.
At Missouri fall camp this season, Ealy’s the one at the front of the stretching lines before practice. He’s the player opposing offenses have to account for. And he’s the one NFL scouts will have their eye on when they stop in Columbia.
He’s not shying away.
“All I can say is I’m not going to settle for second best,” Ealy said. “You’re going to see a different Kony this year.”
Supervising editor is Grant Hodder