<
>

CB Rutland emerging as leader for Tigers D

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- The Mouth is gone. That was obvious the moment Missouri lined up to stretch before its first spring practice of the post-Sean Weatherspoon era. He won’t be back, and a mouth of Weatherspoon’s volume can’t be duplicated.

But while draftniks discuss whether or not it’s good for an NFL locker room, Missouri is doing it’s best to replace all the good that came from Weatherspoon’s daily demeanor and leadership.

Plenty of candidates abound for the Missouri defense that lost Weatherspoon and fellow outspoken leader and defensive tackle Jaron Baston from last year’s team that finished 8-5. Leading the way is senior cornerback Kevin Rutland.

“I’m trying to help on my own, but he definitely came in here and took that spot,” said senior cornerback Carl Gettis.

Rutland has led the way with his play, too. Production is a necessity for his words to have impact. In five scrimmages this spring, Rutland came away with four interceptions. No other Tiger defender had more than one.

“I’ve watched older players. I’ve been here the longest and I’ve seen what great leaders have done here, as far as Sean Weatherspoon, Lorenzo Williams, Tommy Saunders, Martin Rucker,” Rutland said. “”I watched those guys and I just felt them all my years here and now feel like it’s my time to pilot this team.”

Rutland’s ballhawking antics would be much appreciated this fall. Last season, Missouri defenders intercepted just eight passes in 13 games, second-fewest in the Big 12.

“We’ve had constantly good linebacker play. We’ve had constantly good D-line play. But it seems at times our secondary would fall apart,” Rutland said. “We’ve got to eliminate that completely and we’ll be a great defense.”

Rutland and three other seniors in the Missouri secondary (Gettis and safeties Jasper Simmons and Jarrell Harrison) are ready to make fans and critics forget about their 2009 shortcomings. Rutland has no plans to contribute to a secondary that gave up over 250 yards per game and 20 touchdowns last season.

“Every year we have something to prove,” Rutland said. “You come into a new season, you have goals set to reach every time. If you fall short of that, then it’s an incomplete season.”