Spring football produced very positive results at the safety position for Missouri. The Tigers opened the spring with a starting duo of senior Kenronte Walker and sophomore Braylon Webb, and those two have emerged from the spring as the top two safeties.
Webb and Walker used spring football to clearly establish themselves as Missouri's top two safeties. Walker is a physical run-stuffer who has developed into a well-rounded safety, with solid coverage skills. Webb is an outstanding talent, who has shown tremendous playmaking ability. He's very good in coverage, and is very physical, as well as being a sure tackler, and he possesses very good ball skills, as well as a nose for the football.
Tavon Bolden, who had been reinstated to the team after the fall semester, began the spring near the bottom of the Depth Chart. He quickly separated himself from the pack and emerged from the spring as the Tigers' number three safety.
In addition, this spring was the first opportunity for new Missouri Assistant Coach, Alex Grinch, to get to know his personnel, and to begin to work with the safeties. Coach Grinch, who played safety, and has coached safeties at his two previous coaching stops, took time to visit with ShowMeMizzou.com near the end of the spring, and he talked about the safety position for the Tigers.
"From a depth standpoint, you look at Kenronte Walker," began Coach Grinch. "I've been very pleased with him, a physical safety. From a work ethic standpoint it's been very, very positive. Everything, from a footwork standpoint, from a physical standpoint, I've been impressed with him from a mental standpoint. There's been a lot of positives with number thirty, no doubt."
"Next to him is Braylon Webb," continued Coach Grinch. "In all cases obviously, it's not all positive. I mean, there's snaps on any given day that you want to have back, and you've got to coach him through in those things. But overall, as you look at him, Braylon's another guy who is doing it the right way. If you're doing it the right way, you've got a chance to be in the right spot when it's live bullets coming at you."
I asked Coach Grinch about the talented Webb as a playmaker?
"He does (make plays). He does," agreed Coach Grinch, speaking of Webb. "What I tell guys is that when you do it the right way, when you've got a good stance, when you've got a good start, when you've got a good pedal, when you've got disciplined eyes, you've got eye control, and you've got good fundamentals, it's funny how the ball finds you………………………………….. He's (very talented)! I've been very impressed up until this point. Like anybody, he's got a long way to go, but it's been positive."
"Tavon Bolden is playing some one nickel for us," said Coach Grinch, talking about the junior safety. "So, he's getting the chance to run with the first unit, which is good. He's also running with our twos at the safety spot. He's another guy that I think from a potential standpoint, certainly has an opportunity to be a high-level player in the SEC. There's no doubt about it. He has the size. He has the speed. He has the athleticism. He's another guy who has shown well (most of the time). You know, it's one of those things where it's been at a high enough level enough that you feel good about him having a chance to be an impact guy for us. But certainly, he needs to perform better in order to beat out the guys in front of him."
At the conclusion of spring football, two players were in close competition for the fourth safety spot, and a place on the two-deep heading into fall camp. Red-shirt freshman Ian Simon continued to improve throughout the spring, and he is close on the heels of the veteran, Matt White.
White certainly has the edge in experience. Coach Grinch talked about White.
"I think Matt White has had a pretty positive spring," explained Coach Grinch. "Anytime a guy has live reps……………………………….. The more guys you have that have live reps, you've got to lean on those guys a little bit."
Then, Coach Grinch talked about Simon.
"As a young guy in this program, I told him that we're doing him a little bit of a disservice, because we're playing him at two spots," explained Coach Grinch, speaking of Simon. "He's playing the safety spot, as well as the nickel, which obviously increases the learning curve as a young guy in the program. The positive is that you're learning two spots. Ultimately, the more places you're playable, the better chance you have of making an impact. So, it's a positive. The negative is that the wheels are still spinning a little bit. And, that's typical for a freshman just trying to learn one spot, let alone two."
"I think he's got great potential," continued Coach Grinch, still talking about Simon. "You talk about prototypical safeties to play at this level, from a speed standpoint, and a mental standpoint, you would circle him, and a guy like Cortland Browning, who's another young guy that's again, kind of the prototype that you're looking at."
Near the end of the spring, Browning and Daniel Easterly were even on the depth chart, and both were splitting reps with the number three defense.
"We're trying to get as many guys ready to play as possible," concluded Coach Grinch. "My message to (the safeties) is that if we've got two ready to play, we're going to play two. When this thing gets real in the fall, and it gets real in the fall, not in spring football, when it really gets real, the ultimate is going to come down to, if the two's not as good as the one, we're not in the business of rotating. We're trying to ultimately put the best eleven out there at any given time. How many will we find that ultimately can get to that spot? I'm encouraged at this point that the number is larger than two, which is good. Now, how large that number gets to I think is still left to be seen."
I think that the Tigers have a very good group of safeties. I'm also impressed with the new coach of the safeties. Based on what I saw this spring, I would have said that Braylon Webb is the Tigers' number one safety, so it was interesting to learn from Coach Grinch that he considers Walker to be his top guy. Still, he acknowledges what I've seen on a daily basis, that Webb is just a talented playmaker out on the field. It was also interesting to hear that Coach Grinch really likes what he's seen from Ian Simon. I expect to see Simon continue to develop, and to move ahead of White in the fall, which will give the Tigers depth at the safety position heading into the season.