Thoughts Of Spring: Defensive Back

Missouri continued to show an upgrade in talent on defense at defensive back this spring.

This spring, the back end of the Missouri defense contributed significantly to defensive dominance.

The Tigers returned three of their four starters from last season, and the one new starter is perhaps the most exciting talent in the Missouri secondary.

Following Spring Football, Missouri Head Coach Gary Pinkel said, “I think the perimeter of our defense is probably as fast and as athletic as we’ve ever had.”

This spring, Missouri returned all of their corners from a year ago. Senior Kenya Dennis and junior Aarion Penton played at a very high level this spring. Every day, Penton was taking the ball away. All spring, he appeared to be in mid-season form. Those two corners were really good last season, and this spring, they both got better; in Penton’s case, maybe a lot better. Early this spring, last year’s #3 corner, junior John Gibson, seemed to be in the coach’s dog house. But by the end of spring, he got back into the rotation. In the meantime, however, sophomore Logan Cheadle and senior David Johnson had each moved ahead of Gibson in the depth at corner.

Red-shirt freshman Finis Stribling made great strides this spring, as well, which will set the stage for a very competitive fall camp at that critical and extremely demanding position.

Senior safety Ian Simon is the leader on the back end. He’s the most-experienced player in the Missouri secondary, and this spring, the fifth-year senior was playing better than ever.

Alongside Simon is sophomore Anthony Sherrils, who is one of Missouri’s fastest and most-talented athletes. This spring, it appeared that Sherrils had matured. This spring, he not only ran a 4.29 forty, but he played fast, as well. It was less than a year ago that Sherrils moved to safety from corner, and last season, he was a very productive special teams player. He likes to hit, and his speed allows him to get there in a hurry. He also displays outstanding ball skills, in addition to elite closing speed. Sherrils gives the Tigers speed and athleticism that Coach Pinkel and crew haven’t had at safety. His rapid development is exciting!

Fifth-year senior Cortland Browning missed a good part of Spring Football. And although he’s quite capable, and big and fast, when he returned to the field from injury, he was looking up at Sherrils on the Depth Chart.

The other top safety for the Tigers is sophomore Thomas Wilson, who played some in the nickel last season. This spring, the Tigers mostly played their base defense, at least until the last week or so, which gave Wilson the opportunity to play on the back end for most of the spring. When the Tigers did play their nickel, Wilson took most of the first-team reps. Penton also played some nickel, but it appeared as the Tigers came out of the spring that Wilson is the starter at that position. He also played well behind Simon at the safety position. Like Sherrils, and to a lesser extent Simon, Wilson is something of a converted corner, so coverage is his strong point, although also like Sherrils, he’s likes to come up in run support. He’s a hitter.

Unfortunately, a knee injury kept red-shirt freshman Tavon Ross out all spring. He is expected to return to the field in the fall.

At the conclusion of the spring, junior Chaston Ward was competing for a spot on the two-deep as well. He adds to the quality depth at the position.

Another young safety, sophomore Shaun Rupert, showed well this spring. But at the conclusion of the spring, he had yet to nail down a spot on the two-deep. He has since decided to transfer away from Missouri.

So for the Tigers, there’s not only some very high level players atop the Depth Chart at both corner and safety, but there’s also quality depth behind them at both positions. Post-Spring Secondary Depth:

CB 7 Kenya Dennis 6’0” 200 (S) 3 David Johnson 5’11” 195 (S) 1 John Gibson 6’0” 190 (J) 29 DeAndre McKenzie 6’1” 195 (S)

CB 11 Aarion Penton 5’10” 190 (J) 28 Logan Cheadle 5’10” 180 (So) 31 Finis Stribling 5’11” 180 (RSF)

SS 22 Anthony Sherrils 6’0” 200 (So) 5 Cortland Browning 6’1” 205 (S) 16 Brock Bondurant 6’2” 215 (J) 12 Dominic Nelson 6’0” 185 (So) (injured) 6 Tavon Ross 6’0” 200 (RSF) (injured)

FS 21 Ian Simon 6’0” 195 (S) 8 Thomas Wilson 5’11” 185 (So) 2 Chaston Ward 6’1” 205 (J) 46 Trei Walton 5’10” 190 (S) 49 Leo Luna 5’9” 200 (J)

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