There is one constant during each drill Missouri’s group of safeties runs during practice: senior Kenronte Walker leading the way.
The 6-foot, 210-pound senior from Fayetteville, N.C., has emerged as the leader of his position group, according to safeties coach Alex Grinch.
“He’s an intense player,” Grinch said. “That intensity I think has helped him both lead the group and position himself at the top of the depth chart. Sometimes that’s natural being a senior, but also you have to have the personality to do it. He possesses that and he’s been a big positive thus far.”
Walker is the lone senior among the seven safeties on roster and has not only assumed former Tiger Kenji Jackson’s starting strong safety role on the field (Jackson started 35 games over the past four years) but also replaced Jackson as the leader of the defensive backfield.
“He’s willing to bark when he feels the need to,” Grinch said. “If you polled the group there wouldn’t be a man at that position who doesn’t have respect for Kenronte.”
Walker transferred to MU from City College of San Francisco. After redshirting the 2010 season, Walker appeared in all 13 games last season, starting four, en route to posting a season stat line of 44 tackles, one fumble recovery, one interception and one sack.
“The starting experience he has is something he can draw from," Grinch said. "He’s been in the arena and had some success.”
Grinch labels Walker as a physical player with good athleticism. He cited Walker's ability to come downhill and be physical with running backs while also matching up in coverage.
As for when Walker struggles, Jackson — now a graduate assistant with the team — is there to mentor his successor.
“When he sees me making mistakes, he’ll come and tell me what I need to correct or what I need to work on,” Walker said. “He’s like a mentor.
“He’s been around the program for a long time. With me coming from JUCO, I didn’t know too much about it but he showed me the way and I learned from him last year. Him being out here right now is a motivation to keep going and keep pushing.”
Although Walker appears to have the starting nod at the strong safety spot, competition has heated up in the secondary.
“Everybody’s fighting for a job,” coach Gary Pinkel said. “There’s second-team guys that want to be first-team, there’s third-team that want to be second-team … there’s competition all over that field and that’s good. The best guys will rise to the top.”
At free safety, sophomore Braylon Webb and junior Matt White have been splitting reps with the first-team defense throughout fall camp, which is nine days old.
Pinkel said four safeties typically see playing time, while the rest are relegated to scout team duties. That leaves redshirt freshmen Cortland Browning, Michael Godas and Ian Simon and redshirt sophomore Daniel Easterly battling for the fourth safety spot.
So, in addition to leading from the front — in both words and actions — how else has Walker approached his final season as a Tiger differently?
“A wanting-to-win attitude every single day,” Walker said. “Wanting to win every single play, every single series, every single day. I want to win everything. This season there’s a whole bunch of doubters and stuff like that. My job is to motivate my teammates and my position group to be able to get better every day.”
Walker’s lead has become one to follow.
“They see me going hard, they see me trying to do things right and then they do things right behind me,” Walker said. “Everybody’s picking it up and I am too.”