In recent weeks, Missouri has gotten improved play out of the cornerback position, and in their secondary as a whole. One factor has been the return to full health and mid-season form of junior corner Kip Edwards, who missed the end of fall camp and the season opener with a hamstring injury. Other factors have included personnel changes at a couple of secondary positions, including the insertions into the starting line-up of RSF FS Braylon Webb, and at the nickel (dime) back position, of sophomore corner Randy Ponder.
Another factor has been the tremendous improvement since the start of the season of sophomore corner E.J. Gaines, who earlier this week was named the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week, for his superlative performance in Missouri's 38-31 OT victory over Texas A&M at Kyle Field. In that game, Gaines recorded career-highs with 10 tackles, and 4 pass-break-ups. He effectively held Texas A&M's all-time record-holding receiver, senior Jeff Fuller, in check, serving notice that Missouri may have an emerging shutdown corner. On the season, Gaines has 13 passes defended (11 PBUs, and 2 INTs), which is fifth in the NCAA and first in the Big 12.
"He's a really good athlete," said Coach Pinkel, talking about E.J. Gaines. "He's got great recovery speed. He's very athletic, in terms of being able to recover and get his body into position to knock balls down without getting an interference (penalty). We saw him do that the other day. That's an ability level, and a work ethic. It's very hard to teach kids that............................................... He's a very smooth athlete, and he's very mature as a football player."
The Missouri assistant who coaches the cornerback position is Cornell Ford. On Monday, Coach Ford took time to visit with ShowMeMizzou.com, and he talked about his crew of corners.
"I'm happy for (E.J. Gaines)," said Coach Ford, referring to the weekly honor. "He played well. It was a big game for him. I thought all of the corners, for the most part, played pretty well."
"I think that E.J. (Gaines is improving every week), no doubt," continued Coach Ford. "I think the whole group is getting better, every week."
Coach Ford talked about the insertion of Ponder into the number one dime personnel package.
"Randy has added some exciting plays to our defense," said Coach Ford. "He's a smart kid, a physical kid……………………………………….. Athletically, we always thought that he had the kind of talent to play at this level."
"Every game there's plays to correct, and plays on which we played well," said Coach Ford. "Honestly, this (past) week, there were more plays on which we played well than previously. There's always something to correct. But, I think the group overall, is playing well. I'm happy with them. I told them a week ago, ‘We're very, very close.' We've just got to continue to do what we do, but do it better."
I asked Coach Ford how Braylon Webb is doing?
"He's coming along, He's coming along," replied Coach Ford, talking about the RSF free safety. "He's a young player. He's making a lot of plays. He makes mistakes from time to time. But, he's getting better. Every game, he gets more confidence in himself. You get that when you play more."
Senior strong safety Kenji Jackson talked about how Webb is doing.
"He's doing good," said Jackson, talking about Webb. "He's playing good. He's excited that he's been starting. He's been pretty consistent. He's playing well out there."
I asked Coach Ford what kind of specific challenges does the Baylor offense present?
Coach Ford laughed, then replied, "What don't they? They've got great players across the board. They've got a quarterback that can run. They've got a pretty decent tailback that can run the football. They literally spread you from sideline to sideline."
I asked Coach Ford, "How good is Kendall Wright?"
"He'll play on Sundays," stated Coach Ford. "He's that good!"
"He's a great receiver, but we've played some other top-notch receivers every week," continued Coach Ford.