Missouri returns one starter in the secondary, in senior strong safety Braylon Webb. In 2013, his second year as a full-time starter, Webb continued to improve, and enjoyed his best season at Missouri. His experience will be invaluable this year, as he returns to anchor a secondary that is very talented, but a little short on experience.
To begin the spring, I expect to see a closely contested battle for the other starting safety position between junior Ian Simon, who played a lot last year, primarily as the nickel back, and senior Duron Singleton, who played increasingly in the nickel last season. Simon has the edge in experience and knowledge of Missouri's system, and he's pretty good in coverage. Singleton has tremendous physical tools. He's very physical, and a sure tackler. And, he runs very well.
Heading into the spring, there are three other scholarship safeties listed. This spring is a critical time for these players, especially junior Cortland Browning and sophomore Chaston Ward, because the Tigers have significantly improved their depth at the safety position. It is also an important time for RSF Shaun Rupert, who might be seen as part of that improved depth.
Here's a projection of what the Depth Chart for the secondary may look like when spring practice begins:
9 Braylon Webb 6'0" 205 (S)
Cortland Browning 6'1" 205 (J)
13 Chaston Ward 6'1" 205 (So)
43 Michael Godas 6'0" 210 (So)
21 Ian Simon 6'0" 195 (J)
Duron Singleton 6'1' 210 (S)
19 Shaun Rupert 6'1" 185 (RSF)
10 Brock Bondurant 6'2" 215 (So)
1 John Gibson 6'0" 185 (So)
3 David Johnson 5'11" 190 (J)
22 Anthony Sherrils 6'0" 190 (RSF)
4 Mubarak Nasiruddin 6'0" 180 (So)
29 DeAndre McKenzie 6'1" 185 (J)
11 Aarion Penton 5'10" 185 (So)
28 Ernest Payton 6'2" 210 (J)
7 Kenya Dennis 6'0" 200 (J)
26 Logan Cheadle 5'10" 172 (F)
There's more quality competition coming in June with a pair of recently signed safety prospects. And, there's also some serious competition for the safety position already here in a pair of talented corners, including junior college transfer Kenya Dennis, and RSF Anthony Sherrils, either of whom may move to safety, and both of whom are viewed by the coaching staff as versatile, very talented play makers. Sherrils is an exciting talent who really impressed the coaching staff last fall, and he'll likely be a fast riser this spring, whether it's at corner or at safety.
When he signed in December, Dennis said that the Missouri coaching staff had told him that he would most likely play the nickel this season, but I think that before he lands there, he'll likely get a look at corner.
Dennis and Sherrils will probably begin the spring behind the four corners who have taken in-season snaps at corner. It's not a highly experienced group of corners, but those four do have some playing experience.
The key player in this cornerback/safety dynamic is junior Ernest Payton, who before he tore his ACL and underwent surgery last fall, was very close to winning a starting job. His full recovery from that injury is the key to the depth at the position, and ultimately to whether Dennis and/or Sherrils would be able to move over to safety this spring.
A pair of sophomores, Aarion Penton and John Gibson, who finished the 2013 season in the rotation at corner, will begin the spring at the top of the Depth Chart. Both of these very talented corners acquitted themselves well in their first season of game action.
Then there's Payton and another junior corner, in David Johnson, who's seen in-game action at corner in each of the past two seasons.
The final scholarship corner in camp this spring is true freshman Logan Cheadle, who JP Rock has compared to a young E.J. Gaines. If Cheadle advances as quickly, then he can be another key player in creating the requisite depth to free up Dennis and/or Sherrils for a move to safety.
Of course, Cheadle will be joined this summer by a pair of freshmen corners, so there's talent on the way to add to Missouri's depth in the secondary.