Missouri Assistant Coach Cornell Ford coaches corner backs for the Tigers. After a recent early practice in fall camp, Coach Ford talked about his current crop of corners.
"I really like this group," said Coach Ford. "I think it's probably the most athletic group of corners, from top to bottom, that we've had here at Missouri since I've been here. They are all very athletic. They can all run. They are all 4.4 (forty) kids, or better. They're starting to understand, and pick up things a lot faster. And, they're also very, very competitive. So, it's going to be interesting to see how they compete and finish up, as we get ready for the fall."
"The starters are doing well," said Coach Ford. "And, the young guys are competing to try to back them up, and keep coming. You know, all jobs are open, so let's compete, and let's go win a job."
Missouri's starting CBs are junior Kip Edwards and sophomore E.J. Gaines. Their back-ups are capable, experienced players, but the youngsters who are further down the depth chart hold even more promise. The development of one or more of these talented youngsters is a key for Missouri this season. To see players like RSF Tristen Holt 6'0" 190 and RSF Xavier Smith 5'11" 185 progress sufficiently to move into those second-string positions, would give the Missouri secondary a big boost.
This summer, Holt established a program record at Missouri by posting a 47" standing vertical jump. If the explosive Holt could establish himself as Missouri's number three CB this fall, it would really solidify the position, giving the Tigers three CBs capable of matching up athletically with the best WRs in the country. Coach Ford talked about Holt.
"Tristen's coming," said Coach Ford. "I think he's really a very explosive kid. He's got the top vertical jump on our football team. He's got the top vertical jump ever, of any football player that we've had here in ten years of coaching. So, that just tells you how athletic he is! Now, it's just a matter of catching him up on the little details of the game. He's getting better there. His biggest challenge is just getting him to talk, because he's not a real talkative kid. I think he knows what he's doing, but he's got to do a better job of communicating with his players, so we're all on the same page."
I asked Coach Ford if the light is starting to come on for Tristen Holt?
"It is," replied Coach Ford. "It's starting to. It really is! He's starting to get there. I think he has a better understanding of what he has to do. We're putting more on his plate. I'm really seeing a different Tristen than I saw in the spring."
Coach Ford talked about Xavier Smith, who missed most of spring ball due to an injury.
"I think Xavier knows what he's doing," said Coach Ford. "But, he didn't get all of those reps in the spring. I think he knows what he's doing, but now it's just a matter of getting the experience, and going through it."
I asked Coach Ford about the two true freshmen corners, David Johnson 5'11" 185, and Ernest Payton 6'3' 200. Johnson is extremely quick, and has shown the ability to cover early in camp. Payton has tremendous size for the corner.
"I think they're both very athletic," replied Coach Ford. "Both of them run well. They're just now starting to pick up things....................... They're going through the typical freshmen stage right now. They're just kind of trying to figure things out."
Coach Ford said that he doesn't know if Payton will end up playing corner, or some other position.
"I'd say right now, I see no reason why he can't," explained Coach Ford. "He has that kind of ability. But, we're still evaluating. It's a matter of, not necessarily, can he play corner? But, where's the best position for him? Right now, we think it's corner. But, who knows, five more practices, where he'll be?"
Regarding Johnson, Coach Ford likes his quickness.
"He's played the position before," explained Coach Ford. "He's got some experience there..................... He's about where he should be right now."
Coach Ford knows that his guys can cover. He said that he's looking to see who is going to be physical.
"I know we're very athletic," said Coach Ford. "I want to see the physical side of the game from our corners, and the play making side of the game from our corners. If we can do those things, we're going to be a special group."
Early in fall camp, Coach Pinkel talked about the corner back position.
"I look at Kip (Edwards) as a returning starter," said Coach Pinkel. "He played just as many snaps as the other two (departed CBs). And, E.J. (Gaines) played a lot. E.J. is a real talented guy. He's not like a second-year player. He looks like he's been playing three or four years."
"The good news is that we've got a bunch of other talented players that are really doing a good job," continued Coach Pinkel. "Steeples and Hobson. I can keep going right down the list. He's got a few other freshmen in. Randy Ponder's played his way onto scholarship. He's turned himself into a player."
Ponder has indeed become a player! During the early camp practices, Ponder has played very well, and has inserted himself right into the mix for playing time this season.