Heading into the spring, there's one safety spot for Missouri that features a returning starter, in senior FS Kenji Jackson 5'10" 195. Jackson really came on last season, and was a big part of the Tigers' improved defensive play. Jackson is one of Coach Steckel's better tacklers, and also brings quality leadership to the secondary.
There are two primary candidates to begin the spring lined up next to Jackson, at the strong safety position. Sophomore Tavon Bolden 6'2 210, and sophomore Matt White 6'0" 180, are both experienced safeties, who played extensively a year ago. White has displayed very good coverage skills, and a nose for the football, while Bolden is developing a reputation as a heavy hitter.
I expect to see Bolden begin the spring as the number one strong safety, and that White will start out as Jackson's back-up.
That would place junior Kenronte Walker 6'1" 205 in position to begin the spring as Bolden's back-up. Walker is an exciting talent who could claim the starting job, even as early as this spring. This will make for a very interesting competition that will probably continue into the season.
Add in a couple of red-shirt freshmen, including RSF S Braylon Webb 6'0" 195, and RSF S Daniel Easterly 6'4" 180, and the competition becomes even more interesting. Webb has shown a lot of promise, and it wouldn't be surprising to see him challenge for that starting job, or at least for a spot on the two-deep. I'm looking forward to getting a better look at both of these talented young players.
A pair of walk-on sophomores, Tyler Davis 6'1" 195, and Tony Randolph 5'11" 210, add depth to the safety position this spring.
The Tigers return a pair of corners who saw extensive playing time last season, in junior CB Kip Edwards 6'1" 200, and RSF CB E.J. Gaines 5'10" 175. Gaines was impressive last season, and Edwards did a good job as Missouri's number three CB. Gaines is definitely an every down corner, and appears to be a pretty good bet to hold on to a starting job.
It will be interesting to see which of the other CBs will begin the spring listed on the second unit. Junior CB Robert Steeples 6'1" 195 probably gets the nod on one side, but he's sure to be challenged, beginning right away. We might see senior CB Trey Hobson 5'11" 190 start out listed with the second unit, but if we do, it won't be for long.
A pair of talented youngsters, RSF CB Tristen Holt 6'0" 185, and RSF CB Xavier Smith 5'11" 180, will be right in the mix from day one. If they don't begin the spring listed on the second unit, they're sure to mount a serious assault on the two-deep depth chart, beginning immediately. It's expected that one, or both, of these red-shirt freshmen will quickly move on to the two-deep, and either of them could eventually challenge for a starting job, by the time fall camp rolls around.
A walk-on, junior CB Randy Ponder 5'10" 185, adds depth to the position. Ponder's a pretty talented walk-on, who would compare favorably to some of the corners on Coach Pinkel's earlier teams at Missouri.
In general, I think it's fair to say, heading into 2011 spring practices, that the Tigers are less experienced in the secondary, than they were a year ago. But, there's been no drop-off in talent, and it's generally agreed upon that Missouri has significantly upgraded its talent at the CB position.
ShowMeMizzou.com Spring Ball Outlook
Despite losing veterans at cornerback like Gettis and Rutland, the Tigers will have a very athletic group of young corners to step in and compete for playing time.
Edwards and Gaines performed well and got some great experience. Gaines looks like a future star at the position.
The biggest loss is Jerrell Harrison at safety. Again, the Tigers will have some talented red-shirt that you hope can compete and make names for themselves this spring.