2011 Pre-Season Position Preview: D-Backs

ShowMeMizzou.com wraps up our pre-season position previews for 2011 with a look at the Tigers defensive backs as we countdown to pre-season camp which starts on Thursday.

ShowMeMizzou.com wraps up our position previews with a look at Missouri's defensive secondary.

13 Kenji Jackson  5'10" 200 (S)
30 Kenronte Walker  6'1" 205  (J)
14 Daniel Easterly  6'4" 190 (RSF)
45 Tyler Davis  6'1" 195 (So)
5 Cortland Browning  6'1" 194 (F)
17 Matt White  6'0" 185 (So)
8   Braylon Webb  6'0" 200 (RSF)
10 Tavon Bolden  6'2 205 (So)
11 Ian Simon  6'0"  175 (F)
1   Kip Edwards  6'1" 195 (J)
22 Robert Steeples  6'1" 195 (J)
2  Tristen Holt  6'0" 190 (RSF)
19 David Johnson 6'0"  180 (F)
31 E.J. Gaines  5'10" 190 (So) 
21 Trey Hobson  5'11" 185 (S)
Randy Ponder  5'10"  195 (So)
26 Xavier Smith  5'11" 185 (RSF)
28 Ernest Payton  6'3"  195 (F)

Senior SS Kenji Jackson  5'10" 200  is the Tigers' lone returning starter in the secondary.  Last season, Jackson developed into a quality Big 12 safety, who was Missouri's best open-field tackler, as well as being one of the Tigers' biggest hitters.  Jackson has always possessed excellent leadership qualities.  Now, heading into his senior year, he's being looked to for leadership in Missouri's new-look defensive backfield.

With so much turnover having occurred in Missouri's secondary, many have assumed that the back end of the Tigers' defense will be suspect.  They will be mistaken.  

The other starting safety position, alongside of Jackson, will be the object of a closely contested competition this fall, as will the back-up safety positions.  Heading into the fall, sophomore Matt White  6'0" 185 sits atop the depth chart at the FS position.  The ball-hawking White is a talented young safety who saw playing time in all 13 games last year, and recorded 18 tackles and 2 PBUs.  In the spring, White continued to impress, picking off passes on an almost daily basis.

Junior Kenronte Walker  6'1" 205 is listed as Jackson's back-up, heading into fall camp, after red-shirting a year ago.  Walker showed well in the spring, and reports from the summer workouts suggest that the junior-college transfer will be right in the mix for playing time at safety this season.

Listed behind White at FS, heading into fall camp, is RSF Braylon Webb  6'0" 200, who is coming in off of a very good spring.  Webb will challenge the two-deep this year, and may just end up playing alongside of Jackson.  During the spring, Webb made a very positive impression.   He's a physical presence, and he made plays all over the field.  Webb is a youngster to keep an eye on as a potential riser.

Sophomore Tavon Bolden  6'2 205  closed spring ball atop the depth chart at FS, but he enters fall camp listed with the third team.   Bolden is a physical presence, who saw action in all 13 games last year, garnering 14 tackles.  Bolden is a strong candidate to challenge for playing time. 

Another RSF safety, Daniel Easterly  6'4" 190, enters fall camp listed third at SS.   Easterly is another one who will be in the middle of the competition for a spot on the two-deep this fall. 
It's likely that Jackson's sidekick at the other starting safety spot, as well as both of the second-team safeties, will emerge from among those five competitors listed above.

Heading into fall camp, there are three more safeties on the depth chart, each of whom will be competing for the opportunity to move up and get onto the field.  Sophomore walk-on Tyler Davis  6'1" 195  provides depth at the position, while we'll be getting our first look at a pair of talented freshman safeties, in Cortland Browning  6'1" 194, and Ian Simon  6'0"  175.  Looking forward to seeing these two youngsters, and watching their progress throughout fall camp.

Missouri has two new starters at the corner back position, in junior Kip Edwards  6'1" 195 and sophomore E.J. Gaines  5'10" 190.  Each of Edwards and Gaines saw considerable action a year ago, and Coach Pinkel says that Edwards was viewed from within the coaching staff as a third starter last year.  In 2010, Edwards played in all 13 games, and registered 36 tackles, including 5 TFLs, and he came up with an interception, to go along with 6 PBUs.  In 2010, Gaines also played in all 13 games, and registered 26 tackles, to go along with 1 PBU.   This spring, Gaines stepped right into the starting line-up, and was very impressive in coverage, as well as in support.  Reports from within the team have Gaines continuing to improve this summer, and some reports have identified Gaines as the best corner thus far of the Gary Pinkel era.

A pair of experienced veterans, in junior Robert Steeples  6'1" 195 and senior Trey Hobson  5'11" 185 are listed on the second-team defense, as we head into fall camp.  Steeples has seen the field in all 26 games over the past two seasons, and he has garnered 20 tackles, and 4 PBUs for his career.  Hobson has played both corner and safety during his Missouri career, seeing action in 36 games over three seasons, and garnering 39 tackles.

RSF Tristen Holt  6'0" 190  is a very talented young CB, who will certainly challenge for a spot on the two-deep this fall.  Holt combines great size, speed, and toughness.   I'm looking for Holt to move up the depth chart, and see the field this season.

A walk-on, sophomore Randy Ponder  5'10"  195, and RSF Xavier Smith  5'11" 185, who missed most of the spring with an injury, each enter camp right in the middle of the competition for playing time this year.  The injury left Smith a little bit behind, in his development, so he has some catching up to do this fall.  His continued development will be one of the things that I'll be paying close attention to during camp, as he works his way up the depth chart.

A pair of talented freshmen, in Ernest Payton  6'3"  195  and David Johnson 6'0"  180, add promise to the CB position.  Payton's a real talent, and has great size for the CB position.  He's a physical player, who can also run.  Johnson brings elite speed and athleticism to the competition.   It will be interesting to see how quickly these two exciting prospects develop during fall camp.

Pre-Season Analysis: The change in the defensive scheme the defensive backs play made a big difference last season. Being able to play that scheme depends on having the athletes to be able to play it.  The Tigers have smart, physical DBs who can fight receivers at the line and then turn and run with them down the field. While they lose some experienced starters, they appear to be upgrading at the positions.

Once again, as we head into fall camp, it appears that Missouri's secondary is the deepest and most talented, that it's been during Coach Pinkel's tenure.  That same statement has been made several years in a row.  That's an exciting trend!  And, while they're not the most experienced group, they're not completely inexperienced.  Whatever this secondary may lack in experience, they will make up for in talent, athleticism, and the ability to flat out run.

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