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Missouri football counting on deep D-line

Wednesday, August 27, 2014 | 9:29 p.m. CDT
Missouri's Shane Ray, left, celebrates after sacking South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw during the third quarter of a Missouri football game on Oct. 26, 2013.

COLUMBIA — Maybe it's Josh Augusta's time.

Maybe it's not.

Maybe that's irrelevant.

The way Augusta sees it, his time will come on Missouri's defensive line.

"If I don't start, I'm gonna be the best SEC backup there is," the sophomore said after a practice earlier this month.

Augusta is listed behind senior Lucas Vincent at nose guard on the Tigers' depth chart heading into Saturday's season opener at home against South Dakota State. But that doesn't necessarily mean production won't be expected from Augusta, the biggest player on the roster at 6-foot-4, 335 pounds. During the three weeks of fall camp, Missouri coaches gushed about such athleticism possessed within such a frame.

Backups getting playing time on the defensive line is nothing new for the Tigers, as was the case in 2013 for defensive ends Markus Golden and Shane Ray. Golden and Ray backed up starters Kony Ealy and Michael Sam, who were on their way to becoming the school's fourth and fifth defensive linemen drafted since 2009.

"In our little bubble, they've been starters," defensive coordinator Dave Steckel said.

Golden played only 40 percent of last year's snaps, but he still managed to notch 55 tackles, the most among the team's edge-rushers. Ray, meanwhile, racked up 39 tackles and provided what might've been the season's most memorable moment when he scooped up a fumble and dashed 73 yards for the Cotton Bowl's game-clinching touchdown.

Defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski counts their contributions as stretching beyond mere statistics. 

"When you don't have somebody pushing you from behind, you're not gonna be as good a player," he explained. "So, you know, Michael Sam was a better player last year because Markus was pushing him. Kony Ealy was a more productive player because Shane Ray was pushing him." 

Now, Golden and Ray will get their chance to shine atop the depth chart.

"We played our roles last year," Ray said, "but we both understood that this season, it was gonna be big for both of us to take over the defense. We accepted that and we embraced it, and now we're just taking it, we're running with it, and we're leading all our young guys to go with us."

Currently behind Ray and Golden on the depth chart are a pair of redshirt freshmen: Marcus Loud and Charles Harris.

Perhaps they can learn from their counterparts before them.

"I never wanted there to be a drop-off in talent level when Michael and Kony came off the field, and I took that very personally," Ray said. "So every time that I stepped on the field, I gave my best effort and just put everything that my body could possibly do on the line."

Golden shared a similar sentiment. A captain entering his final collegiate season, he said that being labeled starters won't alter the approach he and Ray took in 2013. 

"We don't really talk about it like, 'This our year, this our year,'" Golden said. "We talk about it like we were talking about it last year. Really, it's just the same thing going in. We're just going out there and going hard every day."

Next to Vincent, Matt Hoch and Harold Brantley will get ample playing time.

"We look at all three of those guys as starters, and that's a positive," Coach Gary Pinkel said Monday as he described the idea of a rotation on the interior of the line.

And then there's Augusta, who said during fall camp that he's learned more about his role coming off a season in which he appeared in every game as a true freshman. He's learned more about technique, more about what can come from using his big hands to direct the blocker in front of him.

"It's about clogging the holes for me. That's what I try to do," he said. "If I make a play, I make a play, but I try to get my D-ends in there and linebackers."

In other words, he doesn’t mind paving the way for fellow defensemen to make plays. He'll help their names get called while he waits to hear his own.

Supervising editor is Raymond Howze.


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