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August 19, 2009Nobody will cover fall camp like PowerMizzou.com. We will have analysis, reaction, photos and video from every single practice leading up to the season opener. To get your free trial membership going today, justclick right here.
It has been said that you can't teach speed. Fortunately for Cornell Ford, that's the one thing he doesn't have to teach this August.
"From top to bottom, absolutely the most (we've ever had)," Missouri's cornerbacks coach said. "They're all athletic, they can change direction, they are physical when they want to be. We've just got to have them want to be that way all the time."
The athleticism is there. It has been reported that five of Missouri's six fastest players are corners. But what this camp is about for Ford is figuring out which of Missouri's six corners can translate that athleticism to good play on the field.
"We got a talented group of cornerbacks, six guys that can go out there and all potentially start," said Robert Steeples, a redshirt freshman. "I think that's one of the strengths of our defense."
Steeples is currently running second team with Trey Hobson. The starters are Carl Gettis and Kevin Rutland and Munir Prince and Kip Edwards are currently running third team. But the competition is close enough that the depth chart could change multiple times before next month's opener against Illinois.
"We're asking them to separate. They're competing hard," Gary Pinkel said. "In our nickel and dime schemes, all those guys are going to play. We're going to play six corners. That being said, they all want to start."
"It is pretty tight. It's great competition," Rutland said. "These are all guys that can play the position and play well. It's heavy competition right now."
Who wins those competitions-and how well they play-could go a long way toward determining the success of Missouri's 2009 season. A year ago, there may have been plenty of targets for blame in Missouri's four-loss season. But no area drew as much criticism as the Tiger pass defense. Missouri was 117th in the nation last year, giving up 286.6 yards per game and a staggering 29 touchdown passes.
"Those guys are the big play guys. They're the ones that limit the big plays," Pinkel said. "Those guys play well, it keeps eight yard gains from being 35 yard gains. That's the responsibility they have and that's something we're going to have to improve on if we're going to be a good defense."
"We're putting it on our backs. We have to," added Rutland. "Anything that happens after however many yards is on us."
Last year, there was plenty that happened downfield. From Juice Williams to Zac Robinson to Sam Bradford, opposing quarterbacks carved up the Tiger secondary all season long. The Tigers gave up 18 touchdown passes that covered at least 20 yards.
"You know, our secondary wasn't too good last year," Steeples admitted. "We've taken notice of that and used it as motivation. This is a different year and a different secondary. Last year is last year and we're just trying to step up and make a name for ourselves this year."
The man that has to spearhead that charge is Gettis. As a true freshman, the Fort Zumwalt West product burst on the scene immediately in fall camp. He started ten games, was the team's cornerback of the year and a second-team freshman all-American. As a full-time starter in 2008, Gettis' numbers went up, but the quality of play did not.
"Instead of continuing to move uphill, I thought he kind of plateaued a little bit and that's a challenge for him. I don't think that he had his best year last year," Ford said. "I think when you come in as a true freshman and you compete-which he does, that's what he does best-you make a splash. Now the expectations are a little bit higher for you because you've got to lead them and every year there's more that's expected out of you.
"He's the leader of the group. His production will help this group as a whole and kind of set the tone for us."
While the competition is wide open, Ford says a few players have begun to assert themselves in practice. Gettis and Rutland are in line to start, but the competition will rage over the next two-and-a-half weeks. And if the corners on the field aren't getting it done, there are plenty waiting to take their spots.
"If they're getting behind us, life's bad," Ford said. "And you know what? Everybody in the stands knows. When a corner screws up, everybody knows. Nobody knows when the D-Line screws up. I do. As a defense we do, but in the back end, you make a mistake back there, the other team's band is playing."
It is a song Tiger fans heard all too often a season ago.
Nobody will cover fall camp like PowerMizzou.com. We will have analysis, reaction, photos and video from every single practice leading up to the season opener. To get your free trial membership going today, justclick right here.