Greg Brown, Mizzou's new cornerbacks coach, made it very clear that while many key players are returning to a defense that ranked sixth in yards per game allowed last season, every secondary position would be up for grabs.
According to Brown, "Mizzou is putting a sign out in the yard that says, 'help is wanted.' Let's go somebody, apply and take this job."
Luckily for Brown, standout corner Aarion Penton is one of the players that will be "applying" for one of the starting positions. But things could have turned out very differently had he received a higher evaluation this off-season.
"Just by getting evaluated and getting the feedback back ... they just said that it's best to come back and try to be a first- or second-round pick," says Penton. "Sky's the limit from now on. [I'm] just trying to be positive and be a great leader and expect big things this season."
While Penton has all but locked down his spot at corner, the race to accompany him has just begun. Penton and John Gibson are currently lining up with the first team, while juniors Logan Cheadle and Anthony Hines have been practicing with the second team. But it's so early in the spring that it's nearly impossible to predict who the starters will be outside of Penton.
This is a sentiment Brown echoes, although he does have high praise for Penton.
"He seems like he's a good leader. He's a vocal guy, very enthusiastic, and he rallies the troops," Brown says.
One thing that may end up being a huge factor is the new coaching regime's vision for the cornerback position. Contrary to the previous defensive system, in this one the corner's sole mission is to focus on eliminating his respective receiver.
"I'm not needed in the run game at all. The corners are really just locked on the receivers and trying to take them out [of] the play," Penton says.
With Kenya Dennis, an excellent run defender, graduating, this schematic change may be what's best based on the current strengths of the players at that position.
"We are all fast, speedy guys, so I feel like it's easier for us [because] we just have one job," Penton says. "Coach Cross tells us if everybody does their job, then we'll be successful."
While position battles continue through the spring, the family atmosphere among the corners will remain the same.
"One thing in our room is that it's a competitive room because we all wanna play, but everybody is looking out for each other," says Cheadle. "It's not a 'you wanna put so-and-so down so you can play over him,' it's just 'if he's doing better, he's gonna play, but I'm always gonna help my brother out.'"
Missouri resumes practice Tuesday at Faurot Field.
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