Sophomore Kip Edwards 6'1" 200 has seen a lot of playing time this season, and has been listed as a co-starter at CB, and has played as Missouri's third corner in their dime package. True freshman E.J. Gaines 5'10" 180 has seen increased playing time throughout the season, as has been impressive. Those two returning players appear to have the inside track on the starting spots heading into next season.
Recently, Missouri assistant coach Cornell Ford took time to visit with ShowMeMizzou, and he shared some of his thoughts about his three freshmen corners.
"I think it's a very talented group," began Coach Ford, in response to my question about the young cornerbacks. "E.J. Gaines is going to be very good! Tristen Holt has got a lot of potential, and Xavier Smith. I really like my young guys. I think it's probably the best, most athletic group that we've had since we've been here. Now, we've just got to get them to mature, and learn the defense, and play fast. But, there's a lot of talent there."
Coach Ford talked about the impact on the young players of having two senior starters this season.
"This is the first time in a while that we've had some seniors at this position," said Coach Ford. "We will have to reshuffle the group, and we're trying to get them (the freshmen) as many reps as we can, so that when we get to the spring, that they're ready to go."
"That's the luxury of having those young guys," said Coach Ford. "And them being able to see the older guys, and get that year of experience behind. They've seen the good, the bad, and the ugly, and hopefully, that will help them in the future."
Coach Ford said that he's always looking ahead to be prepared for upcoming seasons.
"Actually, in the past, we've played a lot more corners than we did this year," explained Coach Ford. "This year, we really kind of played with four guys. So, we've really got to get these younger guys, Tristen Holt and Xavier Smith, more reps in the spring. Because they're going to be thrown into the mix next year, and they're going to be thrown in pretty fast."
Coach Ford indicated that he thinks all three of his freshmen corners will probably remain at cornerback, although he admitted that Holt does have the size to play safety. But, because the Tigers have quality depth at safety, he said that he foresees all three remaining at the cornerback position.
"He's so physical," began Coach Ford, describing Tristen Holt's strengths as a player. "He plays with a different intensity. In fact, with him, I have to kind of pull him back. Because he's a very, very intense kid. And, he's really tough on himself, too. But you know, he's still learning. He's got a lot of just technique things (to work on)................... We're really just now working on some of that. He's still got a long ways to go."
"Xavier is extremely quick," continued Coach Ford, describing Xavier Smith. "He's got a great first step. His burst is unbelievable! And, he's a very smart kid."
Coach Ford identified E.J. Gaines as a fast starter, in his college career, already having seen considerable playing time, and having played well, in his first season. He said that Gaines covers real well, and is also very physical.
"He's physical," said Coach Ford, talking about Gaines. "He'll snap you. Every time, when he hits, he hits you. He'll bend you over. And, Tristen's like that. Initially Tristen wasn't, but I think when you first get here, it's all kind of a learning experience. And some guys move a little faster than others."
I asked Coach Ford if this is the best group of young cornerbacks he's had.
"No question," responded Coach Ford emphatically. "No question! I mean, from top to bottom, no question. They're all athletic. They all can run. Generally, when I get corners, you get them in here, and you're hoping that, the number one thing is, can they run? Do they have the kind of speed to be able to do the things that we want?"
After listening to Coach Ford talk about his three freshmen corners, and after having seen them last fall, and again this past week, I'll be surprised if we don't see all three of them on the field next season.