As Missouri prepares to head into fall camp, ShowMeMizzou.com takes a look at the Tigers’ secondary. One corner is manned by a former all-conference player in senior E.J. Gaines. The starting job at the other corner is up for grabs. Senior Randy Ponder begins camp listed as the starter opposite Gaines, but he’ll receive a strong challenge from RSF John Gibson, who begins camp listed right behind Ponder.
After working at safety during the spring, Ernest Payton has returned to the corner. Behind him are the two very talented freshmen, Aarion Penton and Anthony Sherrils, and a number of walk-ons, including David Sowell, who has shown promise.
Once Gibson moves ahead of Ponder, and I believe that it’s just a matter of time before that occurs, the question will become whether Johnson, Smith, Payton, or one of the youngsters can overtake Ponder for the number three corner spot. That’s a critical competition and position, because when Missouri goes to their dime personnel package, the number three corner is on the field in passing situations, and is often matched up in the slot.
Besides Gaines and Ponder, the Tigers are young and inexperienced at corner, but Coach Ford will likely tell you that this may very well be his most talented group of corners yet. Barring injury, Missouri will be in good shape with Gaines and Gibson. Behind those two, it becomes a question of talent versus experience, with a handful of talented young players challenging Ponder for the opportunity to play.
The safety position presents a different picture for Missouri than does the cornerback position. There’s one returning starter, in Braylon Webb, and although he’s not a former all-conference performer, he’s very capable. Webb is physical, a good tackler, and he makes plays on the football.
Heading into fall camp, Matt White is listed as the starter at the other safety spot. The fifth-year senior is very experienced, having opened the season two years ago as the starter before being replaced in the starting line-up early in the season. This off-season, White has maintained a slim margin over Ian Simon, who received recognition this spring as the Tigers’ most-improved at the position. Near the conclusion of spring football, White and Simon were splitting reps with the first-team defense.
I thought that the most-improved award this spring could very well have gone to Webb’s back-up, Cortland Browning, who has really asserted himself this off-season. Browning is an athlete with good size for the safety position, and this spring, he demonstrated increased maturity and dramatic improvement in his footwork, fundamental technique, and in the consistency of his play.
Another young player who asserted himself this spring is Chaston Ward. He begins fall camp listed behind Browning.
Junior college transfer Duron Singleton expects to compete for a starting job immediately. He’s a talent, and it’d be great for Missouri if he can come in and start, but that may be a lot to ask of a player who will arrive just in time for camp.
FS 9 Braylon Webb 6'0" 205 (J) 5 Cortland Browning 6'1" 210 (So) 13 Chaston Ward 6'1" 205 (RSF) 13 Shaun Rupert 6'0" 180 (F) 18 Michael Godas 6’0” 210 (So) 32 D'Andre McKenzie 6'1" 185 (So)
CB 31 E.J. Gaines 5'10" 195 (S) 3 David Johnson 5'11" 190 (So) 26 Xavier Smith 5'11" 185 (J) 22 Anthony Sherrils 5'11" 180 (F)
11 Aarion Penton 5'10" 185 (F)
34 Jordan Wade 5’9” 195 (J)
CB 7 Randy Ponder 5'10" 190 (S) 1 John Gibson 5’11” 185 (RSF) 28 Ernest Payton 6'2" 210 (So)
22 David Sowell 5'10” 185 (F)
29 Zach Edwards 5’9” 190 (RSF)
46 Jared Edwards 5’10” 195 (RSF)