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Missouri Football Spring Preview: Anthony Sherrils could be ready for a star turn

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Spring football practices are just around the corner, and Mizzou’s annual Black and Gold game is April 16 at 5pm on the SEC Network. In next few days, we'll be taking a look at the Tigers' likely depth chart, plus how the incoming recruits might fit in. We’ll start on the defensive side of the ball and work our way back to the offense.

Derrick Forsythe / Rock M Nation

Safeties

Seniors Juniors Sophomores Freshman Class of 2016
Anthony Sherrills (R) 6'0 190 Tavon Ross (R) 6'0 200 Ronnell Perkins (R) 6'1 175 DeMarkus Acy 6'1 182
Thomas Wilson 5'10 190 Greg Taylor (R) 5'11 180
Gone: Ian Simon, Cortland Browning
Returning Starters: Anthony Sherrils (64 tackles, 4 TFLs, 1 INT, 6 PD, 1 FF, 1 FR)
Others Returning: Thomas Wilson (14 tackles, 1 FR), Tavon Ross (†), Ronnell Perkins
Newcomers: Greg Taylor, DeMarkus Acy (Early Enrollees: None)

Recap: Departed safety Ian Simon was surprisingly solid and while his athleticism and instincts did not stand out, his leadership fortified the Tigers last year. As a redshirt sophomore, Anthony Sherrils was one of the top rated safeties on one of the best defenses in the country.

Blazing 4.3 speed gives him the range to cover deep and stop the run and his instincts mean he is someone opposing quarterbacks have to account for. The fact that he is even playing football is an amazing story:

Fellow junior Thomas Wilson was primarily a nickel safety last year but has been impressive for the last two years and can fill the role left by Ian Simon. Tavon Ross has been waiting for his turn for two years and when healthy was an athletic freak; multiple knee injuries could mean he is not the same guy anymore. Ronnell Perkins was a scout team safety as a redshirt freshman last year.

What to Watch: How aggressive new safeties coach Ryan Walters gets in his second year in the system, with better familiarity with the personnel.  Odom and chief coordinator DeMontie Cross will look to improve third down and turnover rates, as well, which could impact aggressiveness. Mizzou has not had a group of safeties this dynamic in years, and while they do not have great depth, they are young and can become the strength of the defense in the coming seasons.

Oscar Gambler's Predictions: Sherrils and Wilson listed as starters with Taylor getting a lot of snaps, specifically as a nickel safety. Ross will have to demonstrate he can remain healthy after suffering ACL injuries to both knees in the past two years. Perkins will continue to be valuable backup due to his speed. Acy will redshirt.

Dan Keegan: In 2016 I look for Anthony Sherrils to blossom into a star at Missouri. His athleticism and knack for big plays -- along with his compelling story -- make for a player who is highlighted in every broadcast. And if he could clinch a few more wins with game-sealing interceptions, that will help his star, too.

This is completely anecdotal and unscientific analysis -- shh, don’t let Bill know I’m putting that on his website -- but it feels like Mizzou always has one excellent safety and one who makes fans want to pull their collective hair out. On paper, this group has a seemingly perfect blend of youth that has already been game-tested. Ideally this blend of upside and experience will lead to consistent playmaking on the back end of the defense.

Bill C.: With Ross presumably still limited/out, we're going to learn a lot about guys like Perkins this spring. Namely, we're going to find out if Perkins is actually a safety (he's still listed as a receiver on the Mizzou roster). We're also going to find out what happens with Cam Hilton, who moved from safety to WR midway through last season and showed as much receiver upside as anyone.

With Ross out and Taylor not yet to campus, it's Sherrils, Wilson, and ???? this spring. Sherrils and Wilson could be fantastic -- Sherrils really did break out in 2015, and perhaps the main reason Wilson didn't is that Sherrils stole his playing time -- but we'll get a pretty sustained look at the backups, both who they are and what they might be capable of.