Experienced cornerbacks are key strength for Missouri football

Monday, August 6, 2012 | 4:08 p.m. CDT; updated 10:42 p.m. CDT, Monday, August 6, 2012
Missouri cornerbacks practice Monday with coach Cornell Ford. Ford expects senior Kip Edwards and junior E.J. Gaines to take their game to another level this season.

COLUMBIA — Missouri second-string quarterback Corbin Berkstresser fired a pass deep down the middle of the field during 11-on-11 drills. The ball sailed beautifully  — spinning with a perfect spiral, not wobbling a bit.

There was just one problem.

Cornerback E.J. Gaines swooped in and intercepted the ball before it could reach the intended target. Gaines, a 5-foot-10 junior from Independence, has been making plays frequently in the first few days of training camp. That trend continued Monday during the team's first practice with players in full pads.

Gaines was one of only two Tigers to make the media's preseason All-SEC Team, the other being offensive tackle Elvis Fisher. The third-team recognition might give Gaines something to brag about to Kip Edwards, the self-proclaimed "fastest corner in the room."

But Edwards, a 6-foot-1 redshirt senior from Arlington, Texas, quickly dismissed his teammate's accomplishment.

"Third team don't count, baby," Edwards said.

He went on to quote the song "#1" by Nelly, "Two is not a winner and three nobody remembers."

Gaines agreed, shaking Edward's hand and saying, "That's true."

Both have their sights on bigger things. As they talk about the process of planning interception celebrations the night before games, they say they want to both be All-SEC players at the end of the year. First-team All-SEC, that is.

"Both are good players. (They have) lots of experience, lots of game experience. And we're expecting them to take their game to another level," said Cornell Ford, Missouri cornerbacks coach.

Gaines and Edwards will continue to be tested at practice by trying to cover the Tigers' tall group of receivers. It may be difficult, but the veteran corners say they enjoy practicing against height.

"I always tell them, 'The bigger, the slower,'" Gaines said.

Ford likes the confidence shown by Gaines and Edwards. He said it is necessary to be able to succeed at the cornerback position.

"Every once in a while, they (the receivers) are going to get by you," Ford said. "You can't panic. You've got to trust your technique, trust your fundamentals and believe, as I tell my guys."

That is when a corner's confidence comes into play. He is forced to chase the receiver downfield and is then faced with a choice: keep watching the receiver to stay with him or turn around and look for the ball.

"The closer he (the receiver) is to the sideline, the more I'll look back," Ford said as he demonstrated the thought process for a corner chasing a streaking receiver.

However, Ford said most receivers like to run routes more inside, near the numbers on a field, which are marked parallel with the sideline and seven yards inside it. In this case, Ford said the corner should keep looking forward at the receiver. He said that if the corner looks back, the receiver can easily pull away farther, especially if the ball is in the air longer.

"If I told you (and someone else) to run a 100-yard dash, and one of you can run straight down the line, and the other one has to look back, the guy that is going straight down the line is gonna win," Ford said. "Every single time."

If the corner allows the receiver to separate, Ford said an over-the-top pass is easy for the offense. However, despite the risk of losing ground, there are times when the corner needs to turn around and look for the ball.

Gaines said the team struggled at the beginning of last year because it did not turn around to look for the ball. By not looking back, the corners lose opportunities to create turnovers. They also are more likely to get called for pass interference if they make contact with the receiver without looking back for the ball.

"You've got to train your head and your eyes," Edwards said."The good ones can do it, but the great ones do it consistently."

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