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2013 Mizzou Walkthrough: No. 4 CB remains up for grabs among long list of competitors

Bill Carter

David Johnson

#3 | 5'11, 190, So. | Spring, TX

Bill C.: Sometimes a player follows a linear progression up the depth chart. He starts out as third- or fourth-string as a freshman, maybe moves to the second string in his redshirt freshman season, then maybe cracks into the starting lineup later in his career. David Johnson has followed a different path. He was kind of a lost soul, stuck on the third string for most of his redshirt freshman season, but he was a revelation this past spring. He picked off a pass in the Black & Gold Game, won the spring's Most Improved DB award, and suddenly looked like a threat to crack into the starting lineup sooner than later. He got a further opportunity to do some damage in fall camp with E.J. Gaines' injury, but instead he got torched multiple times in last week's scrimmage and was dropped to the bottom of the depth chart in an attempt to send a message.

Johnson appears to be a fiery sort, one who dealt with some maturity issues when he first arrived on campus (and since there usually isn't a switch you flip, he is probably still battling some of those at times). As long as he sticks with the plan, it appears his upside is evidently pretty high, especially from an athleticism standpoint. But his volatility -- extreme highs, extreme lows -- might prevent him from seeing too much playing time this year.

countrycal: Johnson had a good spring from all reports, and has the tools to challenge for the second starting spot. Competition just makes us better, and is especially welcome to me in the defensive backfield which is my greatest concern. Either way, I expect to see him get on the field regularly, and hope he continues to make the same kind of news that he did in spring practice.

Ernest Payton

#28 | 6'2, 210, So. | College Station, TX

2012: 3 games, 2.0 tackles

The Beef: He's back to being listed at the cornerback position, though you would think he has the size befitting more of a safety. To be honest, I don't care where he plays, but if the size is equalled by the ability, he could be a force come the fall.

countrycal: That makes for a big cornerback, but if he can handle it, it just makes our defensive backfield that much better at handling big wide receivers.

Bill C.: Payton appears to be the person most directly benefiting from David Johnson's volatility. Following last week's scrimmage, he suddenly found himself on the second string.

Pinkel spoke at length Friday about the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Payton, who appears to be making a push for playing time. In Mizzou Network’s practice report from Friday, you can see him making a play on the ball at the 2:05 mark.

"A corner that size, it almost scares you because there’s very few corners that are as big as he is," Pinkel said. "(You ask) really can he cover, really can he play the position because he’s got more like safety size and if you put a few pound on him, he can probably be a linebacker."

Pinkel was then asked what the College Station, Texas, native — who made a failed transition to safety this spring — can do to make sure he improves his agility.

"He’s doing it," Pinkel said. "(With) how difficult that position is to play, typically (you want) smaller guys because they have to have the movement. The big thing with corners is you have to recover. All corners get beat, the good ones recover. We constantly work on those techniques all the time."

One could see Payton getting used a lot in some games and less in others in 2013, depending on matchups. It's nice to have versatility, and Mizzou could have that when facing teams with a bigger receiver or two. A big, physical corner is a nice club to have in the bag.

Xavier Smith

#26 | 5'11, 190, Jr. | Edmond, OK

2011: 9 games, 3.0 tackles
2012: 9 games, 3.0 tackles

Bill C.: When reading about the corners getting torched by Mizzou receivers last week sans E.J. Gaines, I reminded myself just how good they looked in the spring. Corner could become an issue if Gaines misses time during the season, but lord knows there's a lot of potential here.

Xavier Smith seems to be a bit of a forgotten man on the depth chart. He's never been too far down the list, but there's always been at least one youngster ahead of him, be it John Gibson, David Johnson, or now Ernest Payton. Like Johnson and Gibson, he logged a pick in the spring game and looked great (and aggressive) in doing so. Smith reminds me of someone like Trey Hobson; he looks pretty damn good when given an opportunity, but he clearly doesn't look quite as good in practice (or else he'd be at or near the top of the depth chart).

The Beef: To be honest, I was surprised a bit to see that Smith was third on the depth chart following spring practice. I would have thought he’d be higher by now, but it would appear he’s been passed by the next on our list. As he is currently lined up behind Gaines (though I assume they can be moved from one side to another), perhaps Smith’s biggest contribution will come on special teams or something.

countrycal: Xavier came to the Tigers with expectations, and now is the time to start fulfilling them if he hopes to have a noteworthy career. There should be room for playing time if he is able to put it all together and play meet the challenge.

Aarion Penton

#11 | 5'10, 185, Fr. | St. Louis, MO

Bill C.: Aarion Penton has gotten more praise than perhaps any other true freshman to date. He is getting a long look and saw quite a few second-string reps in Gaines' absence, but the question is whether he'll be able to separate himself in what is obviously a crowded pack of young guys with potential (and minimal consistency). Regardless, it's exciting to know there's one more interesting name in the mix come next spring, when Mizzou is without both Gaines and Randy Ponder.

The Beef: Penton has been a Tiger for some time without being a Tiger for some time, as he was a very early commit to the previous class. I feel like he will end up making a bigger impact in the return game potentially down the road.

Anthony Sherrils

#22 | 6'0, 190, Fr. | Kansas City, MO

The Beef: I believe this young man is a relative of Marcus Denmon.  That is more than enough for me to like him in a year when I doubt I will ever think about him again.

Bill C.: When Sherrils committed, it wasn't clear whether he would end up at WR or DB. For now, it appears to be DB. That's really all we know right now -- he was hobbled earlier in fall practice and almost certainly won't play this year. I believe he was believed to have strong prowess as a return man, and he certainly has athletic potential down the line.

(I said "potential" a lot in this piece.)