It’s no secret that Missouri’s defense struggled last season, but one of the few bright spots was the play of senior cornerbacks Aarion Penton and John Gibson.
As the Tigers try to rebuild entering coach Barry Odom’s second season, replenishing the depth chart at cornerback is a critical goal during spring practice.
“I think it (cornerback play) will be a strength again this year, but it’s just different,” said Logan Cheadle, a Lee’s Summit West graduate and the lone senior cornerback on Mizzou’s spring depth chart. “We’ve got some different people out there and we’re going to play in a different style … but we’ll still be a strength of the defense.”
The Tigers have recruited taller, longer cornerbacks since Odom’s arrival in December 2015.
After experimenting with pass-only responsibilities at the position last season, Mizzou switched back to a style and system that involves its cornerbacks in the run game as they force and contain players on the edge.
Odom said he’s “very impressed” with Cheadle’s leadership among the cornerbacks this spring, which isn’t a surprise as he stares down his final college season.
“I don’t know if it really hit me yet, but I definitely am accepting more of a leadership role,” Cheadle said. “Whatever role on the field I end up getting, and I hope it’s a starting position, but whatever it is I want to do it the best of my ability.”
He feels an obligation to be a role model in the defensive backs’ room — whether it’s for his work on the field, in the classroom, in the weight room or in the training room.
“I want to be somebody they can look up to and understand this is how you do things, because it sets the tone for years to come,” said Cheadle, who missed four games because of a high ankle sprain early last season.
The injury nagged him the remainder of the season, but he still finished with 10 tackles and recorded his first career interception.
Cheadle — a 5-foot-10, 180-pound senior who saw lots of reps in the slot last season — also made his first career start Oct. 29 against Kentucky, but he hopes it won’t be last.
“I put everything I’ve had into this program for three years, so I think it’s time for me to just let it all shine this year,” he said. “That’s what I’m planning to do.”
Odom also singled out sophomores DeMarkus Acy and Christian Holmes for strong play midway through the Tigers’ spring practice schedule.
“Both of those guys are longer, taller guys and athletic,” Odom said. “They have some experience from last year.”
Acy admitted that the corners march to Cheadle’s beat right now.
The versatility he showed last season, playing outside or in the slot as a nickel back, gives Cheadle confidence, as does the 32 career games under his belt.
“My quickness I definitely can use to my advantage, whether that’s getting around blocks or breaking on the ball,” Cheadle said. “My experience, using my eyes, I always try to have them in the right place and just don’t make any rookie mistakes anymore. That’s what I’ve got to use to my advantage.”
Three Missouri players were limited at practice Tuesday for the first time this spring.
Wide receiver Nate Brown, who had ankle surgery last fall, was limited, but a Tigers spokesman said it was a preplanned day of rest.
Junior wide receiver Emanuel Hall and senior safety Thomas Wilson also were limited after minor hamstring injuries.
Four players who underwent surgery in the last five months — defensive tackles Terry Beckner Jr. (knee) and Markell Utsey (knee), safety Cam Hilton (shoulder) and Ish Witter (shoulder) — remain limited.
Junior tight end Kendall Blanton (ankle) and sophomore defensive end Franklin Agbasimere (foot) are sidelined for the spring, while junior running back Nate Strong remains indefinitely suspended.