Mizzou hopes committee approach can make up for star defensive tackle's absence

BY foxsports • August 27, 2013

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Sheldon Richardson's impact
lingers.

Need proof?

Look
up.

Arms flexed and fists clenched, there he is,
larger than life as always.

The monstrous photo of
Richardson that has been plastered to the wall of the Mizzou Athletics
Training Complex is one of the first things you see when you walk
inside. It's a tribute to Richardson's success, a nod also given to
other former Tigers now in the NFL -- guys like linebacker Sean
Weatherspoon, quarterbacks Blaine Gabbert and Chase Daniel, defensive
ends Aldon Smith and Ziggy Hood, and receiver Jeremy
Maclin.

"He was a tremendous player," junior
defensive end Kony Ealy says while standing under the image of his
former teammate.

"It's a huge loss to us. But at the
same time, we've got players that fulfill that role. A lot of players
are stepping up to the challenge."

The Tigers (5-7,
2-6) came up short in just about every category during their inaugural
Southeastern Conference season. So much so that head coach Gary Pinkel
poked fun at 2012 on Monday, when he told reporters the booming cannon
that signals Tiger touchdowns at Faurot Field didn't fire nearly as
often as it should. Looking back, Richardson was pretty much the only
player who really seemed ready.

Before he was drafted
by the New York Jets 13th overall, Richardson tore through his junior
season at Mizzou. He ruffled feathers, barbing Georgia with an
old-man football comment, ripping into his own teammates during a locker
room explosion after the Vanderbilt loss and getting himself suspended
for the Syracuse game due to poor class attendance and a failure to
finish the extra conditioning coaches assigned as
punishment.

He was a lightning rod, yes. On
the field, though, he was electric.

Richardson earned
second-team all conference honors. He totaled 10.5 tackles for loss and
4.5 sacks. His tackle total (75) was more than any other interior
linemen in the SEC -- just four less than Mizzou's leader, linebacker
Andrew Wilson.

"Sheldon is a guy you don't replace
with just one guy," Wilson says.

The committee that
hopes to be just as disruptive will be centered by nose guard Lucas
Vincent and defensive tackle Matt Hoch. Vincent steps into the spotlight
after seeing time as a reserve in 12 games last year. Hoch, who started
12 games at the nose in 2012, is expected to be fully recovered from a
triceps injury in time to start in Saturday's season opener against FCS
opponent Murray State. Those who will help out inside
include redshirt freshman Harold Brantley and true freshman
Josh Augusta, a player Pinkel points to as a pleasant surprise of fall
camp.

Experience returns on the ends thanks to Ealy
and senior Michael Sam. Pinkel also considers sophomore Shane Ray a
starter because he will rotate regularly with the veteran duo.


Sam likes what he has seen so far, enough to squash
any concern an outsider has due to Richardson's
absence.

"Every year since I've been here, the D-line
has been the best group of the defense," he says. "I don't think that's
going to even change a little bit. Yeah, we lost Sheldon. But I don't
think that's going to change anything. We've got guys who can take his
spot. We are going to be good."

Still, Richardson's
looming presence on the wall of the building players enter every day
must serve as a reminder of a big vacancy. It's a hole Sam and
his teammates believe they can cover, as long as they work
together.

"Ain't nobody gotta be Superman," Ealy
says. "We just have to go out there and do our
job."

Follow Ben Frederickson on
Twitter (@Ben_Fred), or contact him at
frederickson.ben@gmail.com



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