Perhaps no position for Missouri football was hit harder by graduation than cornerback.
The Tigers lost a pair of entrenched starters, Aarion Penton and John Gibson, who had totaled more than 50 combined career starts during the previous four seasons.
The entirety of Mizzou’s cornerback depth entering 2017 boasts two careers, one apiece for senior Logan Cheadle and sophomore DeMarkus Acy last season.
“We lost my bros, man,” sophomore Christian Holmes said when asked about replacing Penton and Gibson. “I learned a lot from those guys, a lot about maturing. When I first came in, they both took me an Acy under their wing and I learned a lot from them. We’re going to miss them a lot.”
It would be easy to stress about the lost leadership and experience, but the trio of Acy, Cheadle and Holmes exude confidence more than concern.
“I don’t feel any pressure, because I know with the guys we have,” Acy said. “We’ve got a lot of good guys in the DB room. We’re all working hard, so I don’t feel too much pressure, because I feel like we’re going to fill those shoes just fine.”
That’s perhaps especially true for Cheadle.
He was a special teams standout as a freshman, worked his way in the back end of the cornerback rotation as a sophomore and was poised for a bigger role as the Tigers’ starting nickel back last season.
A sprained ankle against Georgia cost Cheadle three games and untold confidence.
“That was my first time having to miss a practice in my football career, much less a game,” Cheadle said. “Even when I came back, I didn’t feel like myself, because I didn’t trust my ankle fully yet. I wasn’t happy about last year at all, but this year hopefully I can go in healthy and have a good year.”
He started the spring second on the depth chart, but took the field with the first-team defense for the spring game.
Again, Cheadle was second on the depth chart midway through the summer, but he’s been soaking up first-string reps throughout the first week of training camp.
“He has stepped up a lot,” Holmes said of Cheadle. “He’s done a lot for us, because he has the most experience. From coaching us on the field to coaching us off the field, I really appreciate him.”
Along with junior Finis Stribling IV and two incoming freshmen, Adam Sparks and Terry Petry, the competition for those starting jobs has been fierce and will go down to the wire before the depth chart is finalized for the Sept. 2 opener against Missouri State.
“It’s healthy competition,” second-year coach Barry Odom said. “They’re back and forth with each other, but they’re helping each other out.”
Acy — whose right wrist remains in a cast until Aug. 25, the remnant from surgery to repair a fractured scaphoid bone after spring practice — understands it’s no small feat to replace an All-SEC cornerback (Penton), but he’s eager for the chance to try.
“I want to show that I’m one of the top corners in the SEC, but more than that I just want help my team get better and help us get better as a team,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of things in my arsenal. Whether it’s filling up the alley against the run or covering the pass or whatever I need to do, I just like playing ball.”
Co-defensive coordinator/secondary coach Ryan Walters, who coached safeties last season but absorbed the cornerbacks when Greg Brown bolted for Auburn, doesn’t seem nervous about MU’s collection of corners.
“They’re taking coaching well and translating what we do in individual drills and in the classroom,” Walters said. “We’ve still got a good group of guys … so I’m excited.”