HOOVER, Ala. -- Sheldon Richardson was drafted 13th overall by the New York Jets in this past spring’s NFL draft.
Now it is time for the Missouri Tiger defense to replace his presence on defense after he had 75 total tackles with 10.5 of them for a loss to go with four sacks, three forced fumbles and two recovered fumbles in 2012. Teammate Zaviar Gooden, who was drafted in the third round of the NFL draft, will also be missed at linebacker.
“He (Richardson) was like a linebacker,” Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel said. “He was a 300-pound linebacker. His quickness and movement up front, along with being very strong, being able to do things most guys can’t do, that is why he was a high pick with the Jets.”
Matt Hoch will look to step in and help replace the lost production.
“For us, any time you lose a high-level player, some other people have to step up,” Pinkel said. “Matt Hoch is a player for us that played last year as a redshirt sophomore. He has had a great spring. I actually look for him to play at a whole different level.”
The burden of replacing Richardson will not fall squarely on Hoch as the whole defense will have to raise its game after finishing 58th nationally in defense in 2012.
“He (Richardson) is great player, so the defensive line as a whole has to replace him. It can’t be just one guy,” senior linebacker Andrew Wilson said. “We all have to work together to replace him.”
Wilson has led the Missouri in tackles each of the last two seasons and had 79 total tackles last season. Senior cornerback E.J. Gaines will be a key in the secondary after he posted 74 tackles, broke up 11 passes, forced and recovered two fumbles and picked off one pass.
Missouri learned some things in its first season in the SEC.
“In the SEC you have to come to play every game,” Wilson said. “Every game is going to be physical and you know you are going to be hurting.”
Mizzou also learned from some of the best teams as to what it will take to go to that elite level.
“We are really looking to communicate better,” Wilson said. “Alabama makes no mistakes. We are looking to just capitalize and make no mistakes.”
The defense as a whole is ready to get back on the field not only to show there is life after Richardson, but to erase the memory of the final game from last season.
Texas A&M and eventual Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel torched the Tiger defense to the tune of a 59-29 win. Manziel scored five total touchdowns and threw for 372 yards in that game.
It is a performance that has stuck with the Missouri defensive unit all offseason.
“It was a really frustrating end to the season,” Wilson said. “It has been a bad taste in our mouth all offseason.”
Missouri gets a chance to erase that A&M game from memory when the Tigers open up with Murray State at home on Aug. 31.