Missouri adds physical size, ‘winner’ with 2017 class

25 players signed national letters of intent to play for the Tigers on Wednesday.
Head football coach Barry Odom talks to a few reporters at the end of a press conference he held at the end of the Black and Gold annual spring football game on April 16. This spring game was Odom's first time on the field with his team in a game-like situation.

The Missouri coaching staff left little doubt on national signing day as to how it plans to reach the top of the Southeastern Conference.

The behemoths up front will be the catalysts.

Offensive and defensive linemen made up 12 of 25 recruits who signed with Missouri on Wednesday. They are a big piece of the Tigers’ attempt to literally increase the overall size of their players in 2017.

Missouri coach Barry Odom said it became clear his team lacked Southeastern Conference size in his first season as head coach.

“You go through the warmups and you are comparing the way guys look, and we didn’t look right,” Odom said.

At first glance, the 2017 signing class members are changing this. The smallest offensive lineman the Tigers signed measures 6-feet-5 and weighs 270 pounds — Pompey Coleman from Indianapolis. Heights and weights only increase from there. Yasir Durant stands above all signees, measuring in at 6-feet-7 and weighing 328 pounds.

Although Missouri returns all of its starters from an offensive line that allowed an SEC-low 14 sacks in 2016, it felt the need to bring in depth that possessed size.

“It’s a big man’s league, especially with the defensive linemen we see every week,” offensive line coach Glen Elarbee said.

The Tigers needed size in terms of both stature and the amount of players on the defensive line. Charles Harris left for the NFL Draft. Rickey Hatley and Josh Augusta graduated. And Terry Beckner, Jr. and Markell Utsey are both nursing season-ending ACL injuries from 2016. Odom said both will be “very limited” for spring ball.

So, ‘D-line Zou’ retooled and now has a roster filled with young talent. The Tigers added four three-star recruits and two two-star recruits on the defensive line, according to Rivals’ ratings.

Defensive coordinator DeMontie Cross said Kobie Whiteside, a two-star defensive tackle, is probably the most physically ready to contribute early on.

Cross also noted Missouri’s ability to bring in six defensive linemen stems from strong recruiting by new defensive line coach Brick Haley. As a former coach at Texas and LSU, Haley has a knack for strong recruiting, Cross said.

“People know him, they love him, he is an exceptional coach, and he is going to bring a lot of value to us, not just on the football field but also [in] the recruiting aspect,” Cross said.

Missouri adds a ‘winner’ at quarterback

If Missouri wants to return to its winning ways from 2013 and 2014, adding ‘winners’ such as Taylor Powell becomes necessary.

In high school, losing was a foreign concept for Powell, a three-star quarterback from Fayetteville, Arkansas. Powell won consecutive state titles in 2015 and 2016. He also won Mr. Football and Gatorade Player of the Year for Arkansas his senior year.

Offensive coordinator Josh Heupel hopes Powell, who flipped his commitment from Wake Forest, brings that success to Columbia.

“If you are going to win a championship, you better have a championship quarterback,” Heupel said. “I love what Taylor brings.”

And Heupel, a former quarterback, would know. He led Oklahoma to a national championship in 2000.

Odom might top Heupel’s excitement to get Powell. Odom described Powell as a great competitor and a player with a high football IQ.

“You look at all the qualities he possesses, and that is exactly what I want in a quarterback,” Odom said. “He is a winner.”

Heupel said Powell did not stumble onto winning by accident.

“It’s not just that he’s won because he showed up — it is how he’s won,” Heupel said. He is extremely focused on what he wants to accomplish and what he has to accomplish every day to meet those end goals physically, mentally.”

Pre-signing day drama

Although Missouri ended up with 25 signees, that number seemed unrealistic earlier in the week.

Two former Tigers wide receiver commits, Jafar Armstrong and Elijah Gardiner, switched their commitments after weekend visits to Notre Dame and Ohio State, respectively. Both received a three-star rating from Rivals.

Odom, who did not mention Armstrong or Gardiner by name, said it puts him in a tough place when commits take visits so close to signing day.

“If you sit there and pound the fists and say you aren’t going, well, what does that say about you?” Odom said.

Odom noted that if Missouri became a place that every player wants to come to, he and his coaching staff would not have to worry about commits taking visits to other schools after committing.

“You hope they want to be at the University of Missouri more than anything,” Odom said. “And they aren’t worried if the Green Bay Packers come along. It doesn’t matter. They are staying with Mizzou.”

With the last minute reshuffling these flipped commits forced, Odom said it allowed him to see the growth in his staff during the year he has been head coach.

“Our recruiting department has done a fantastic job on having guys lined up for every scenario,” Odom said. “I am really proud of what they have done.”

Edited by Eli Lederman | elederman@themaneater.com

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