Aldon Smith. Sheldon Richardson. Michael Sam. Kony Ealy.
Those are some of the names that have given Missouri the reputation for producing top-flight defensive linemen.
Now, a new duo is ready for its turn to be added to the list.
Senior defensive lineman Markus Golden and his counterpart, junior Shane Ray, have been tasked with taking over on a defensive line that was one of college football’s most productive units last season.
In 2013, with the help of Sam and Ealy, the Tigers posted 41 sacks and 32 forced turnovers, both Southeastern Conference bests. But Golden and Ray made their presences felt last season as well, combining for 11 sacks during conference play.
And as is the case during every college football season, personnel turnover brings a fresh opportunity for other players.
“We have been working hard and we are looking real good,” Golden said. “I could never put down last year’s team, but we have some young guys that are stepping it up and it is amazing to see the way that they have improved.
“The sky is the limit for us and we just want to come out and prove ourselves. Last year is over and we just want to be better.”
Accompanying Golden and Ray on the interior of the line will be seniors Lucas Vincent and Matt Hoch, as well as sophomore Josh Augusta. Vincent and Hoch both started for the Tigers last season, and Augusta, then a freshman, saw more action as the year progressed.
Vincent said he thinks this year’s defensive line is just as talented — but a little different, too.
“I think (this year) we have a little more experience, a little more grit,” Vincent said. “We all get after it every single play and never take a play off and we are going to go out there and grind for each other.”
Ray lauds his teammates’ playmaking ability and believes even the backups are ready for the spotlight. After all, it was just last season that Ray and Golden played well enough as backups to enter this season as projected first or second round picks in the 2015 NFL Draft.
“This year, I think we have really good depth with two guys behind us who are ready to step up and play with (redshirt freshmen defensive ends) Marcus Loud and Charles Harris,” Ray said. “But our defensive tackle rotation is what is most impressive, because we have four to six defensive tackles that can go in and play and be productive.”
Said Ray: "We are aware of the tradition here that is the defensive line."
In regards to depth, the Tigers return five players who each accounted for 30 or more tackles along the defensive line, with Golden, Ray and Vincent leading the way. The trio will have to keep producing and leading the way in order to continue the group’s tradition.
“We call ourselves ‘D-Line Zou’ because we are aware of the tradition here that is the defensive line,” Ray said. “Coach (Craig) Kuligowski, just being who he is, is able to push guys who were so highly recruited out of high school into great football players.
“We want to continue the tradition, keep our expectation level high and just continue to produce.”