Cornerback is the least of Missouri’s concerns entering the 2015 season.
Both starters, senior captain Kenya Dennis and junior Aarion Penton, return along with junior John Gibson, a part-time starter last season.
Gibson backs up Dennis and sophomore Logan Cheadle, a Lee’s Summit West graduate, backs up Penton and might be called on to play nickel this season.
Cheadle played primarily on special teams, but he also got valuable game experience as a cover man.
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“Experience is always good,” MU cornerbacks coach Cornell Ford said. “They’ve been through it. They’ve had a little taste of it. Most of those guys have been on the field. Now, we’ve just got to take their level of play to another level. You’ve got to raise the bar, and that’s the challenge of the group this year.”
The Tigers have a new defensive coordinator, but Ford said he doesn’t expect much to change from 2014. He estimated during the spring that 25-30 percent of the defense will be different under first-year defensive coordinator Barry Odom.
“We’re pretty much doing what we’ve done in the past, but we’ve tried to add some things,” Ford said. “We’ve looked at some stuff that they’ve done in the past (at Memphis) that’s been pretty good. We just added that on to what we’ve already done and our kids have blended in really well with it.”
There might be more press coverage under Odom compared with former defensive coordinator Dave Steckel’s preference for zone coverage and, with a lack of defensive-line depth compared to last season, corners might be asked to blitz more.
“It’s more of an aggressive defense as far as man (coverage) and coming up, being more aggressive on the receivers,” Dennis said. “We’ve still got our bread-and-butter zone, so we’ll be good … (but) I welcome that challenge. I like that. I feel like I have an advantage over receivers at the line, so that’s something I enjoy.”
Still, the fundamentals haven’t change and Ford is confident his group can handle it.
“We’re a very athletic group, a very explosive group and we certainly have the ability to play more press,” Ford said. “But we played a lot of press last year, so we’re not worried about that.”
The only newcomer to the cornerback group is freshman T.J. Warren from Rockdale County High in Conyers, Ga.
“He’s a big, physical guy,” Ford said. “I love his size for a corner. He’s very physical and a smart football player. I think he’s going to come in and make an impact.”
MISSOURI ROSTER: CORNERBACKS
Returning players: John Gibson (6-0, 190, jr.), Aarion Penton (5-10, 190, jr.), Kenya Dennis (5-11, 200, sr.), Logan Cheadle (5-10, 180, so.), Finis Stribling IV (5-11, 175, fr.), Trei Walton (5-10, 190, sr.), DeAndre McKenzie (6-1, 185, sr.)
Incoming players: T.J. Warren (5-11, 190, fr.)
Projected starter: Penton and Dennis
Analysis: This might be Missouri’s deepest and best position group. Nationally and within the Southeastern Conference, Penton and Dennis aren’t getting a lot of preseason love, but both are poised for fantastic seasons.
Dennis ranked sixth on the Tigers with 61 tackles last season, including 4 1/2 loss and a half-sack. He also had an interception and nine pass breakups. Penton finished with 36 tackles, including two for a loss, with three interceptions and a team-high 10 passes defended.
Junior John Gibson and sophomore Logan Cheadle provide depth along with redshirt freshman Finis Stribling IV, true freshman T.J. Warren and walk-on seniors DeAndre McKenzie and Trei Walton.