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Spring football preview: Defensive line

Over the next week, will take a look at the key story lines and players at each position group, ahead of the start of spring football. Today, we continue at defensive line.

PREVIOUSLY: Quarterback | Running back | Wide receiver | Tight end | Offensive line

Spring 2016 projected depth chart

Walter Brady

Rickey Hatley

Josh Augusta

Charles Harris

Marcell Frazier

Josh Moore

AJ Logan

Nate Howard

Spencer Williams

Tyrell Jacobs

Harold Brantley (injured)

Rocel McWilliams

Terry Beckner Jr. (injured)

Bold indicates returning starter. Beckner may return later in spring; it's likely that Brantley will miss the entire spring.
Beckner is the only known injury on the defensive line going into spring football.
Beckner is the only known injury on the defensive line going into spring football.

Can the group stay healthy?

There's no doubt -- this front four is the strength of Missouri's 2016 team, on both sides of the ball. Missouri returns all four starters from a year ago, a group that was a total makeover from 2014, yet didn't suffer much of a drop-off.

A lot is riding on this group, and the biggest question is whether the two-deep can stay healthy. There's been a remarkable run of health among Missouri defensive linemen, with the biggest injury in the past few years coming to Terry Beckner Jr. late last season.

So, while there should be considerable excitement surrounding the talent stockpiled on the defensive line, there will certainly be a lot of held breaths until the season opener.

How much will we see of TBJ?

The only injury (that we know of) entering spring football is Terry Beckner, Jr. He excelled as a true freshman, but then tore two ligaments in his knee on the first defensive snap against BYU. His status for spring is still unknown, but there's likely a chance he returns later in the spring to see some limited action.

Yet, even with that chance, would it be prudent just to let him take his time to recover this spring? The future is unbelievably bright for the young star; it would be disastrous for him to suffer a setback that would limit his playing time in 2016. He's a likely three-year-and-done player; a redshirt year would limit his returns for Missouri on the playing time.

So, even if Beckner returns to health, it may be more likely that he misses all contact this spring.

About that heralded 2015 class...

Even beyond Beckner, Missouri has two other rising super-sophomores. Josh Moore and Nate Howard surprised plenty when they avoided a redshirt in 2015. Each played a considerable amount and showed flashes of their talent.

The biggest area for improvement for each was strength. After their first offseason in Columbia, it will be interesting to see how Moore and Howard look and play this spring. They could push for more playing time, although Howard will have an uphill battle to start at defensive end.

After all, Missouri returns Charles Harris and Walter Brady -- two of the best in the SEC a year ago. You know things are going well for Missouri's defensive line when two of their best players don't factor in to the top story lines for the spring.