Increased depth helps Tigers get bowl eligible

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Sometimes, you almost need a depth chart to track the Missouri defense.

In years past, the Tigers' struggles have been tied to a lack of talent beyond the starting lineup. Not anymore. This season, improved depth has allowed coach Gary Pinkel to freely shuffle players in and out, part of the reason Missouri (7-4, 3-4 Big 12) is heading for a bowl for the first time since the 1998 season.

Missouri hosts Iowa State (2-9, 0-7) in the regular-season finale for both teams Saturday.

The improved depth was obvious even in Saturday's 24-14 loss at Kansas State, as nonstarters stepped forward with big games.

Safety Jason Simpson was suspended the week before the game, giving redshirt freshmen David Overstreet his first start. Overstreet responded with 12 tackles, second on the team, and 11 of them were solo.

In the first half, the team's leading tackler, linebacker James Kinney, went down with an ankle sprain, leaving a hole in the middle of the defense that was filled by Henry Sweat, a junior who ended the game with 10 tackles.

Redshirt freshman Dedrick Harrington, one of the four new faces in the secondary this season, said he enjoys seeing a player like Sweat come into the game and play so well.

"That's why I put my trust in my coaches," Harrington said. "They know what they're talking about. They don't just recruit positions, they recruit athletes."

Sweat's name has been called out during games more and more as the season has progressed. After registering just 17 tackles last season, Sweat has 46 in 2003.

"He's been doing a lot of good things all year," Pinkel said. "We've been substituting him the last six games in there, and I'm certainly pleased with his progress."

Overstreet, a former quarterback from Dallas, switched to safety this season. He ended spring football second on the depth chart behind Simpson, and saw limited play throughout the season. Due to Simpson's ongoing personal troubles, Overstreet is listed No. 1 on the depth chart, meaning he should start against Iowa State.

In fact, the future looks bright for the Missouri defense. Of the 22 players listed on the depth chart, just four are seniors.

"We have tons of young guys," Harrington said. "We're only going to get bigger, faster, and stronger."

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