Joey Burkett tasked with replacing nation’s leading tackler in starting lineup

Burkett, a first-year starter, looks to help fill the void left by Kentrell Brothers' departure
Joey Burkett will be replacing Kentrell Brothers, who now plays for the Minnesota Vikings, in the Tigers’ starting lineup. Courtesy of Mizzou Athletics

Joey Burkett’s truck is a morning mainstay near the Starbucks on the corner of Ninth and Elm streets.

Burkett, a junior linebacker, makes a coffee stop almost every morning in order to become energized for the day ahead. Sean Culkin, his teammate and neighbor, never has to wonder where to find him most mornings.

“I know I’ll see him in the line at Starbucks,” Culkin said.

Burkett will need to channel the energy from his daily cup of joe onto the football field if he's to come close to replicating his predecessor's success in the starting lineup.

Kentrell Brothers, who now plays for the Minnesota Vikings in the NFL, led the nation with 152 tackles during his senior season at Missouri in 2015. With that kind of production, Burkett and the Missouri linebacking corps don’t just have a pair of shoes to fill.

They have to fill an entire shoe store.

The Tigers don’t expect Burkett to do it alone, even though he is Brothers’ replacement in the starting lineup. Michael Scherer, who played linebacker alongside Brothers and now Burkett, said the perceived pressure from outsiders is “fake.”

“It is not a real thing,” Scherer said. “No one is watching film saying, ‘Kentrell would have made that play. I hope you can make that play.’”

DeMontie Cross, the defensive coordinator and linebackers coach, reiterated that for Burkett to find success, he shouldn’t try to be Brothers.

“He’s not Brothers — he’s Burkett,” Cross said. “If he can do that consistently like he’s done throughout spring camp and this summer, I think we will be happy with the way he performs this year.”

What is it that makes Joey Burkett, Joey Burkett? Cross, Culkin, coach Barry Odom and others pointed to the finance major’s high football IQ.

Cross said it allows him to be in position to make plays. However, Burkett didn’t turn being in position to make plays into playmaking in the opener against West Virginia, finishing with four tackles and one for loss. But Odom certainly expects he’ll make that conversion soon.

“He’s got an opportunity to be a really good player,” Odom said. “He needs more game reps in order to get there.”

His instincts help provide him with that opportunity to shine. Kevin Pendleton, an offensive lineman who often has to block Burkett in practice, said his instincts are “right on par” with those of Scherer and Brothers, making him difficult to defend sometimes.

“He is a tough, hard-nosed dude, so those instincts allow him to play fast and hard and physical,” Pendleton said.

If Burkett, a Jefferson City native, can be as consistent as Scherer and Brothers, he’ll have a successful 2016 season.

He is adamant that he won’t try to be Brothers, Scherer or any other individual who has played linebacker for Mizzou, though. Burkett just needs to be his coffee-loving self.

“You really focus on what you can do and what you know,” Burkett said. “You don’t look at it as filling someone’s shoes. You look at it as trying to do your job.”

Edited by Peter Baugh | pbaugh@themaneater.com

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