Adjusting to transitions, Missouri begins spring training

The team is welcoming back new defensive coordinator Barry Odom.
Missouri Tigers football players practice Tuesday, March 10, 2015, at Faurot Field in Columbia, Mo.

Evan Boehm stormed out of the locker room, still wearing cleats and a sweaty headband. “Who took all the damn Gatorade?” he yelled as Maty Mauk followed him and they headed out of the stadium and across Providence Road to the Missouri Athletic Training Complex to grab some dinner.

Football is back.

It may just be the beginning of spring, but the Missouri football team is hard at work as the Tigers had their first practice of the year Tuesday afternoon. The team took the field without last year’s stars and veteran coaches. Yet, they welcomed a familiar face to the defense.

For a team with two consecutive division titles under its belt, Missouri coach Gary Pinkel foresees continued success.

“I don’t think there are changes,” he said. “We want to win a national championship and to do that, you’ve got to win a division championship and you’ve got to win the league championship. That rule has never changed since we got here.”

Arguably one of the biggest changes during the offseason has been the departure of defensive coordinator Dave Steckel and the hiring of Barry Odom to fill his spot. Odom left the Memphis Tigers to return to Columbia, where he played in the late 1990s and later coached the safeties.

Steckel, who was at Mizzou for 14 years and manned the defense for five, announced his decision to take a job as head coach of Missouri State on Dec. 14, 2014.

Odom brought safeties coach Ryan Walters with him from Memphis. Despite the different caliber teams, Pinkel said he hasn’t seen too many difficulties with the transition.

“Barry is easy because he’s been around us,” he said. “And I think, because Ryan was in the same secondary and worked with him in Memphis, they pretty much ran the defense kind of like we do. So the adjustment has been very easy and it’s nice to see those guys working hard.”

The senior players seem to agree and have already started to become accustomed to the team’s new additions.

It also helps that Odom was still with Missouri in 2011.

“The intensity, it’s been great,” senior safety Ian Simon said of his new defensive coordinator. “My freshman year here was his last year here being safety coach. I just miss that intensity, that fire, that passion; that he wants you to be great. He brought that to practice today.”

Walters, who played at Colorado, is only 29 years old. Pinkel was 27 when he was hired as Washington’s wide receivers coach back in 1979, so he said he doesn’t see age as an issue.

“You understand he’s 29 and he’s a positions coach in the (Southeastern Conference),” Simon said. “That says something. That means something. It says a lot about him and who he is.”

Another adjustment for the Tigers is going to be replacing outgoing key players, specifically Shane Ray, who is entering the National Football League Draft, and Markus Golden, who has graduated.

With these losses, Mizzou loses a large portion of its defensive productivity. Despite this, Pinkel thinks the team has plenty of support to replace them.

“I think the other guys are going to do well,” he said. “We’ve got some young guys out there who’ve got a lot of playing experience.”

That youth could be seen as a downfall to some, but Pinkel said his team isn’t going to worry about it because “it doesn’t matter.”

“The bottom line is you come to play,” he said. “Your teammates have an expectation level that you’ve got to get yourself in the position to help them win.”

With the Black & Gold Game 37 days out, and with spring break on the horizon, the transformed team is looking to stay hard at work.

“We’ve worked together this offseason, this whole last part of January and we’ve gotten to get to know each other a little bit,” Boehm said. “Now, it’s time to compete. We got 14 days to get better and that’s our goal.

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