The first scrimmage of the preseason always brings about a few changes to Missouri’s depth chart, as freshman cornerback Aarion Penton learned Monday.
Penton, a 5-foot-10, 185-pound athlete from St. Louis, caught Missouri coach Gary Pinkel’s eye by breaking up a deep pass intended for L’Damian Washington in Saturday’s scrimmage.
“We’re going to give him some more opportunities with the twos to see if he can get in the four deep or be the fifth corner in nickel, dime or some different personnel sets," Pinkel said.
Cornerbacks coach Cornell Ford said Penton, who has apparently moved up from fourth on the depth chart to third based on Missouri’s pre-practice stretch lines Monday, is a very good athlete with a great deal of potential who still has more to learn.
“He has a lot of little things he needs to correct and get better at," Ford said. "He’s got the skills, now we’ve just got to get him caught up with the group."
In a way, the same can be said for redshirt freshman John Gibson, who made waves in the spring but has been limited this preseason by a sprained ankle. With the Tigers in need of some players to step up alongside top corner E.J. Gaines and experienced senior Randy Ponder, Ford said it would be nice to see what Gibson can do - and soon.
"He’s got to get going,” Ford said of Gibson, who missed Saturday’s scrimmage. “Obviously he can’t go if he’s hurt, but we need him to get going as quick as we can and get him in the mix. He’s going to have to earn the position, earn the opportunity. Unfortunately for him, he’s missed a lot and it’s getting down to crunch time here and we need to find out what he can and can’t do."
The good news for Gibson is the Tigers have three weeks and two scrimmages remaining before their first game, which is plenty of time for a player to either prove himself or fall out of the running for playing time.
One player who will certainly need to take advantage of the remaining time is sophomore cornerback David Johnson, who fell from second to fourth on the depth chart.
When asked about the demotion, Ford said the staff was essentially sending a message to Johnson, up-and-comer who was named the team's most improved corner in the spring but is now listed behind Ponder, sophomore Ernest Payton and junior Xavier Smith for the starting spot opposite Gaines.
"Not good enough - simple as that," Ford said of Johnson’s performance on Saturday.
It’s hard to know all the reasons a decision like this gets made without access to the film, but Johnson was burned badly on a deep route by Marcus Lucas that went for a 75-yard touchdown Saturday, and he was also run over by running back Marcus Murphy on one occasion.
"It was really just a go route, he just threw it down the numbers,” Ford said of quarterback James Franklin. “And really, what happened was he (Johnson) was squatting on it. He was squatting, didn’t get out of his backpedal, a guy ran on his toes and ran right by him, simple as that. You’ve got to be smart enough to be on top. That's all technique."
Ruise and Brothers still battling
Another notable change on the depth chart comes at the weakside linebacker position, where sophomore Kentrell Brothers has overtaken junior Darvin Ruise for the top spot. Brothers had an interception Saturday and also ran with the first team at nickel.
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel has repeatedly said he expects both players to play this season, so keep an eye on this one as camp continues.
"I think they both bring a great passion to the game, I think they’re both hitting a stride now where they feel comfortable on defense and they know where their fits are supposed to be and who they’ve got to cover and what gap they have,” defensive coordinator Dave Steckel said. “And when you know what you’re doing, then you can just react and not think about what you’re doing. So I think...the game is slowing down a little bit (for them)."
Printz impresses Pinkel
Any time a quarterback manages to complete 15-of-16 passes - as true freshman quarterback Eddie Printz did Saturday - it’s going to catch his head coach’s attention. Pinkel said Printz, who is listed at 6 feet 2 and 215 pounds, will continue to get more opportunities to prove what he can do.
"We’re gonna give him some opportunities with the threes now, which we hadn’t in the past,” Pinkel said. “He’s got a really good arm, I think everybody can see that. He’s got a compact release, a quick release, and he’s slowly doing a lot of good things. So we’ll see where that goes, but it’s encouraging."
Henson backs up Boehm
Missouri center Evan Boehm had a pair of bad snaps in Saturday’s scrimmage, which seemed to annoy him to no end. He said he corrected the issue immediately after the scrimmage was over, but the funny thing is, offensive coordinator Josh Henson noticed a flaw in Boehm’s delivery before the scrimmage even began.
"I saw him doing something before the scrimmage (while he was) snapping, and I almost said something to him,” Henson said. “(But ) it’s kind of like going up to a quarterback right before the game going ‘Hey, change this in your throwing motion.’”
Boehm had been so consistent to that point that Henson decided to leave him alone.
“I just thought well…he hadn’t been doing that,” Henson said. “It had been high a couple times but not like it was Saturday. So I think we got it fixed. We didn’t have one that did that today in practice. A couple got a little high but the rest of them were right in a guy’s belly.”
Henson is confident Boehm’s bad snaps Saturday were an aberration.
"I don’t have long-term concerns,” Henson said. “I know that kid will fix it."
O-line depth improving
Henson said he is encouraged by the offensive line’s improving depth as camp wears on.
"Honestly, after that scrimmage there were a couple guys that I said ‘Boy, these guys will be able to play for us if we need them to,’ and before that scrimmage, I was not saying that,” Henson said. “So they’re getting better. You never know when that starts clicking for a guy....I was encouraged with some of the younger guys on the offensive line Saturday because I thought they played better than they had been playing previously."
One of those players appears to be redshirt freshman Jordan Williams, who is now the third-string right tackle after switching positions with sophomore Michael Boddie, who is now the third-string guard.
Henson said Williams, who is listed at 6 feet 3 and 295 pounds, has been moved back to tackle because of his athleticism (despite his lack of height).
“I think Jordan, probably his protypical (position) is inside because he’s 6 3 ½ ,” Henson said. “But he’s got really good feet on the edge, so we’re just trying to build depth inside and outside. We’re gonna give Jordan a few days’ work at tackle to let him get comfortable out there."
Senior Max Copeland, who is locked in a battle with sophomore Mitch Hall for the starting left guard spot, remains at the top of the depth chart. Hall got some reps with the first team on Saturday, but Henson said both players are improving.
More depth chart notes
Junior safety Duron Singleton is the fifth-team free safety behind senior Matt White, sophomore Ian Simon, junior Daniel Easterly and freshman Shaun Rupert. It will be interesting to see how long that lasts. You can read more about the safeties in Tuesday’s K.C. Star.
*Sophomore Shane Ray is now the backup to senior Michael Sam at defensive end, flipping spots with senior Brayden Burnett. Ray had previously been Kony Ealy’s backup.
*Senior Jaleel Clark is now the backup to sophomore Dorial Green-Beckham at the "X" receiver position. He takes the place of injured sophomore Wes Leftwich, who lined up in stretch lines at the "Z" receiver position.
*At defensive tackle, freshman Josh Augusta is now a third-teamer behind junior Matt Hoch and senior Marvin Foster.
Four players wore red jerseys today: tight end Jason Reese, receiver Wes Leftwich (strained hamstring), cornerback John Gibson (sprained ankle) and safety Matt White (strained groin).
Leftwich, Gibson and White all missed Saturday’s scrimmage with various ailments, while Reese – who caught two passes in the scrimmage – is a new addition to the walking wounded.
Pinkel said Reese rolled his ankle Saturday, but he apparently performed well enough to leapfrog walkons Clayton Echard and Kyle Peasel and become the third-string tight end.
*Defensive coordinator Dave Steckel had his arm in a sling Monday.
*A scout from the NFL’s Cleveland Browns was in attendance.