As fall camp quickly approaches for Missouri, we take a look at the Tigers' safeties. For starters, the Tigers begin camp with senior Kenronte Walker and sophomore Braylon Webb, each of whom started 4 games a year ago.
In 2011, Webb saw considerable action as a red-shirt freshman, and registered a total of 36 tackles. Walker saw his first action at Missouri, and played in all 13 games, as he came up with 44 total tackles.
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. I think that Webb is a star in the making. I also think that Walker and Webb could be Missouri's best safety tandem since Pig Brown and William Moore.
Projected Safety Depth
Junior Matt White is the most experienced of Missouri's safeties. He won the starting free safety position heading into the 2011 season, but he was replaced in the starting line-up after 5 games. He has played in all 26 games over the last two seasons, and has registered 65 total tackles for his career. In the internal competition, White certainly has the edge in experience. Earlier this year, safeties coach Alex Grinch cited White's experience as a valuable commodity.
Entering fall camp, the other second-string safety is red-shirt freshman Ian Simon, who has impressed from the time of his arrival on campus. The athletic Simon is another rising star. He's pretty good in coverage, and he's not shy when it comes to contact. I could definitely see Simon moving ahead of White as the third safety in. In practice, he's competed for his safety spot, as well as for the nickel spot.
Following Spring Football, here's what Coach Grinch had to say 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."
Entering fall camp, red-shirt freshman Cortland Browning and sophomore Daniel Easterly are likely to be working with the number three defense. I'll have my eye on Browning. Last season, Easterly made 9 tackles, playing almost exclusively on special teams.
Fall camp will be our first look at a pair of talented true freshmen safeties, in Chaston Ward and Ka'ra Stewart. I'm looking forward to seeing both of them compete.
What this group of safeties lacks in experience, they'll make up for in talent. They're a hard-working group, too. The first 2-3 weeks of fall camp will tell us a lot about how the Depth Chart will shake out, and what the playing rotation may look like.
"We're trying to get as many guys ready to play as possible," concluded Coach Grinch, who had gone on to say that he'd like to have a playing rotation, but that the back-ups have to demonstrate that they are worthy, and that their being on the field doesn't weaken the team.