Missouri’s football team received verbal commitments from a pair of cornerback prospects earlier this month and one thing was striking about both Christian Holmes and Bryce Banks — their height.
During the first recruiting cycle since Barry Odom took over as defensive coordinator, the Tigers have landed Holmes — a 6-foot-1, two-star athlete from McNair High in Atlanta — and Banks — a 6-foot-3, two-star corner from Columbia Rock Bridge.
They would have been the two tallest cornerbacks on Missouri’s roster during spring football, but don’t read too much into that.
“We kind of targeted what we need right now and they’re good players, so I wouldn’t necessarily say that the height deal was a change in philosophy,” said first-year MU safeties coach Ryan Walters, who followed Odom from Memphis during the offseason.
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The Tigers have thrived defensively with smaller corners.
Fort Osage graduate E.J. Gaines, who started 15 games for the Rams and finished with 70 tackles and two interceptions as a rookie last season, was a star against the run and pass despite only standing 5-10.
Looking ahead to 2015, MU’s incumbent starters, 5-10 Aarion Penton and 5-11 Kenya Dennis, make one of the best cornerback tandems in the Southeastern Conference.
At 200 pounds, it’s a stretch to say Dennis is a small corner, but the trend in the NFL is for taller corners and that’s a preference at Missouri, too.
It’s just not an overriding factor for the Tigers’ staff when evaluating recruits, at least not yet.
“It’s obviously a plus when you’re 6-foot and above, but I wouldn’t say that there’s an emphasis on that,” said Walters, who is prohibited by NCAA rule from speaking directly about players who have yet to sign a national letter of intent with MU. “It’s definitely a plus, especially when you have kids that can also run, have good hips and good ball skills. The height is just an added bonus.”
During the spring, Missouri only had one cornerback on the depth chart — senior DeAndre McKenzie, a 6-1 Lee’s Summit High graduate who originally signed with Missouri Southern — taller than 6 feet.
One thing that definitely is by design under Odom is an emphasis on aggression outside the hashes.
While recruiting taller corners might be a happy accident, the addition of more man coverage and press technique at the line of scrimmage is philosophical — and welcome.
“I definitely feel like we’re a little more aggressive on the perimeter, but also it comes with just experience,” said junior John Gibson, a 6-0 cornerback with starting experience who plays outside when Penton moves to the slot in nickel situations. “Everybody came back from last year and we’re a little more comfortable in our shoes.”