On Thursday morning, the Missouri Tigers practiced in full pads for two-and-a-half hours on the Kadlec Athletic Fields. It was physical and competitive, and once again, the defense came out on top at the end.
Speaking of Browning, who is currently listed second team behind Braylon Webb, he stayed after practice for some extra fundamental work, along with Webb and Duron Singleton, Missouri’s number one nickel back.
That’s a veteran, experienced, and very talented group of safeties. And they’re backed up by even more talent in a group of young, athletic safeties headlined by red-shirt freshman Anthony Sherrils, among others.
Junior starting safety Ian Simon has made tremendous improvement since last season, and as usual, there was a lot of work that went into that transition in the off-season. He talked about what he did to get better.
“Coach Grinch always talks to us about how, “You can never take a day off!”, explained Simon. “I had Bray(lon Webb) right beside me pushing me every step of the way. And, I had young guys like Sean Rupert who really wanted to go to work. So we did extra footwork, or did extra lifting, or something like that.”
Simon is playing at another level from previous seasons. He also had some personal bests to report in his testing this off-season, tangible results of his off-season work. Simon reported personal bests of 4.44-seconds in the 40-yard dash, to go along with a 40” standing vertical, a 4.18-second 5-10-5 shuttle, a 10’3” standing broad jump, and 17 reps at 225 pounds in the bench press.
“I love being the starting free safety!” said Simon, who began his Missouri career during Kenji Jackson’s senior season. “That was my dream when I first came in here………………………………………. Now, I’m the guy, and it feels really good!”
I asked Simon how good is this defense?
“We can be the best,” said Simon. “I have no doubt in my mind. I’ve seen the work these guys have put in. I mean, we’ve put in just as much work as any secondary, if not more. Our cohesion is getting there. We’re clicking. Like I can feel how the corners are wanting me to play. We’re communicating on the field. We’re handling things a lot better than we used to. I can just feel it! We can definitely be the best.”
There are no holes in this Missouri defense, no weak spots. And, there’s quality depth at every position, if needed. I’m becoming more and more convinced that Missouri’s defense this year will be even better than was their very good defense from a year ago.
Earlier this week, Coach Pinkel said that Missouri’s 2013 and 2014 recruiting classes are the best yet during his Missouri tenure. Seeing these youngsters on the field, it’s clear that the Tigers have once again upgraded their talent over the last two recruiting cycles. And while most of the 2014 class won’t be especially impactful this season, we’re going to begin to see a significant impact from the 2013 recruiting class.
Earlier this week, Missouri defensive Line Coach Craig Kuligowski said of Augusta, that “the sky is the limit”.
“I know people say the sky is the limit,” explained Coach Kool. “But with Josh, really, the SKY is the limit! He can be as good as he wants to be.”
Like Harris, Augusta is developing a tremendous work ethic and attitude. Their stars are rising. Another rising star from the 2013 class is starting corner Aarion Penton. He too, brings a remarkable work ethic and attitude.
“I’m really focusing on the fundamentals,” said the 185-pound Penton. “Each day, or even in the summer when we were on our own, with no coaches, I’ve got Coach Ford in the back of my head. And, I’m just remembering the technique. That’s one thing I’ve focused on a lot, was my technique.”
Like Simon, Penton has also put up some impressive personal records in testing this off-season. He reported personal bests of 4.46 seconds in the 40-yard dash, to go along with 41” standing vertical jump, 9’6” standing broad jump, 3.8 seconds in the 5-10-5 shuttle, and 6 reps at 225 pounds in the bench press.
“Our defense is coming together,” said Penton. “The communication is going to help big time. And if we all run to the ball, because we have speed, then we’ll be fine.”
Penton said that Missouri’s defensive line makes the secondary’s job easier.
“Man! One thing that I can say about our D-line is that they’re dogs,” said Penton. “Coach Stec tells them to pin their ears back and go get ‘em. And, that’s exactly what they do. And, that’s makes the corners’ and safeties’ job a lot easier. The ball will be coming out in two seconds, or if not, it’s a sack. So, we work together, and we just try to play as fast as we can every play. ”
“I think we’re doing to do great! I see a lot of play makers,” continued Penton. “So, if we just stay focused and communicate, we’ll be great.”
It appears to me that Penton has picked up right where E.J. Gaines left off, and he appears to have the talent, the attitude and the work ethic to surpass what Gaines was during his time at Missouri.