Despite the loss to graduation of three of their four starters, Missouri came into spring ball with a good deal of talent in the secondary, and the Tigers are not completely devoid of experience back there, either.
For starters, returning strong safety Braylon Webb comes into his senior season with ample experience. He's coming off of a 2013 season in which he played very well, and during which he continued to improve throughout the season. This spring, Webb continued to improve even more, and he was playing the best of his career. Webb is one of the better safeties of the Gary Pinkel era.
Junior safety Ian Simon came into the spring as the starting free safety, and he held onto the position throughout the spring. Simon gained experience playing the nickel back position in each of the past two seasons. He had a good spring, and he has just continued to get better.
This spring, Missouri usually lined up with a nickel back on the field, and senior Duron Singleton held down that starting position all spring. He played the nickel last fall, and this spring, he played it very well. This fall, Singleton could be in the mix to play some at safety, as well.
Singleton's back-up at the nickel spot this spring was CB Kenya Dennis. Like Singleton, Dennis is another tremendous talent. Dennis may end up playing corner, in addition to providing depth at the nickel spot. He's a physical corner with terrific coverage skills, and he has demonstrated a nose for the football. He's one of Missouri's top defensive backs, whether he's playing corner, or playing the nickel spot. And this spring, he was recognized as Missouri's Most-Improved at his position.
Junior Cortland Browning is one of Missouri's most physically gifted safeties. He spent the spring solidifying his hold on one of the second-string safety spots. If he can ever put it all together, Browning has the size, speed, and athleticism to be very, very good.
After beginning the spring at corner, red-shirt freshman Anthony Sherrils moved to safety in the middle of the spring. After just a few practices, Sherrils moved up onto the second unit behind Webb. Sherrils is the most-athletic of Missouri's safeties. He may be the most-athletic player on the team. Certainly, his 4.31-second forty this spring established him as Missouri's fastest player.
There are two other young safeties, red-shirt freshman Shaun Rupert and sophomore Chaston Ward, who took a good many second-team reps this spring. They both improved during the spring, and they both show promise, as they draw closer to being ready to play.
A pair of sophomore corners, Aarion Penton and John Gibson, each of whom saw considerable playing time last season, entered and emerged from the spring as the starters. Penton burst on the scene last year a s a true freshman, and is an exciting talent, who played well. Like Gibson, he will need to step up to full-time status this season. Both appeared to be improving this spring. They're also both among a handful of candidates being considered for returning punts this year.
In addition to Dennis, who quickly established himself this spring as one of Missouri's top defensive backs, another January enrollee used spring practice to catapult himself into the equation. Instead of spending this spring basking in the glow of senioritis, true freshman Logan Cheadle came in early and used spring football to climb up onto the two-deep. This spring, Cheadle quickly learned the Missouri defense, and he just as quickly established himself as one of Missouri's top corners. Cheadle could just as easily have been recognized as Missouri's Most-Improved CB, along with Dennis. He spent the second half of the spring working with the second unit, and he acquitted himself well. He needs to put on some muscle mass, but it appears that this spring, Cheadle has positioned himself to be in the CB rotation this fall.
A pair of junior corners were heard from this spring, as well. David Johnson worked almost exclusively with the second-team defense this spring, and he's just continued to improve. This spring, Johnson demonstrated that he is capable of helping out in the rotation this fall, if needed.
As Spring Football got underway, Ernest Payton was limited while he continued to recover from knee surgery. But, he started getting back in there after the break, and by the end of the spring, he was taking regular reps with the third-team defense. He's not back to where he was last August, before the surgery, but he's getting his feet under him, and he was beginning to show glimpses of his old self. The off-season will be important for him to rebuild trust in his knee, and to regain his old form.
Here's kind of what the Depth Chart looked like in the secondary at the end of spring:
9 Braylon Webb 6'0" 205 (S)
2 Duron Singleton 6'1" 210 (S )
22 Anthony Sherrils 6'0" 195 (RSF)
13 Chaston Ward 6'1" 205 (So)
43 Michael Godas 6'0" 210 (So )
21 Ian Simon 6'0" 195 (J)
5 Cortland Browning 6'1" 205 (J)
19 Shaun Rupert 6'1" 185 (RSF)
10 Brock Bondurant 6'2" 215 (So)
46 Trei Walton 5'10' 180 (J)
1 John Gibson 6'0" 185 (So)
7 Kenya Dennis 6'0" 200 (J)
3 David Johnson 5'11" 190 (J)
29 DeAndre McKenzie 6'1" 185 (J)
11 Aarion Penton 5'10" 185 (So)
26 Logan Cheadle 5'10" 175 (F)
28 Ernest Payton 6'2" 210 (J)
24 Mubarak Nasiruddin 6'0" 180 (So)