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April 9, 2012

A matter of trust for Missouri corners

E.J. Gaines and Kip Edwards don't cross paths very often during plays. Missouri's starting cornerbacks line up on opposite sidelines nearly every play, alone on their own islands from whistle to whistle.

That isolation may bring some anxiety. But worrying about each other?

After a year of starting together, Edwards and Gaines say that's not an issue.

"Coming in this year, it's like I know what he's gonna do on his side of the field," Gaines said. "He knows what I'm gonna do. We know which side we're gonna play. It's like we're one mind out there on the field. It's already helping a lot."

For Edwards, the trust he shares with Gaines is analogous to a popular mid-90s Nickelodean show.

"You ever seen Keenan and Kel?," Edwards asks. "It's something like that. 'Who loves orange soda?' I know E.J. loves orange soda, so that's exactly what it is."

Gaines provides an example of their trust that isn't limited to re-runs, however. Edwards goes beyond his duty of teammate on the field. He's also Gaines' personal barber.

"You can't just let anybody cut your hair," Gaines said.

"I keep him right," Edwards said. "So I know a lot about E.J."

Edwards makes it seem as if he's also a therapist when Gaines sits down on in front of him. This year, however, those two may not have to talk too much about follies on the field during cutting sessions. While the SEC is undoubtedly full of powerful, yard-churning offenses, there's no questioning that there's a drop-off in receiver output.

The last time a Big 12 receiver was not an All-American on one of the 12 media teams came in 2006. In the five seasons since, the Big 12 produced 12 All-America receivers. In that same span, the SEC produced four.

However, Gaines and Edwards aren't buying the possibility of easier jobs in coverage in the new conference.

"I'd say no," Edwards said. "They had (Alshon) Jeffery, and he's supposed to be what? A first-round pick, early second-round pick? They had Julio Jones ... so I'd say no. We're going to compete and focus on it the same way we did in the Big 12."

"Playing in the Big 12, we had to go against all different kinds of receivers," Gaines said. "I mean, Jeff Fuller was a big receiver. Going against Ryan Broyles, a smaller receiver. We go against all kinds of receivers, so what the SEC is going to throw at us, we've seen it all before.

"We really just have to work on our technique, more than anything, instead of concentrating on what they're gonna do."

Gaines concentrated plenty in an All-Big 12 sophomore season. He deflected 16 passes, notching three intercepions and 69 tackles in the process. Despite missing two games, Edwards forced three turnovers and added 55 tackles.

There's an obvious comfort level between the two teammates on the field -- Edwards says they're "almost like brothers." Despite that, Edwards (a rising senior) is still the older brother. While Gaines trusts him as barber, Edwards still cuts his own hair.

"I don't trust anyone with that," Edwards said.

But Gaines could earn that trust. All it takes is a trip to the end zone.

"He's gotta get a pick-six," Edwards said. "A pick-six."

"Remember that!" Gaines shouted, laughing at the possibility.

"He can cut it any way he wants if he does that," Edwards said, before turning to Gaines. "I'll even go bald if you get a pick-six."

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