Mizzou settles into Barry Odom era

Ian Simon: “I feel like coach Odom is a younger version of Stec.”
Missouri Tigers defensive lineman Terry Beckner Jr. (79) in action Friday, Aug. 14, 2015, at Faurot Field in Columbia, Mo. Courtesy of MU Athletics

The last time a person not named Dave Steckel ran Missouri’s defense, “Drops of Jupiter” was a top-10 hit song and movie audiences were dazzled by the magic of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.”

Things have changed a bit around Columbia since 2001.

For one, the competition is fiercer than ever in the almighty Southeastern Conference, but that didn’t stop Steckel from leading the Tigers defense to back-to-back SEC title games and back-to-back SEC Defensive Player of the Year Awards. The trophies Pinkel and the Tigers have accumulated over the past 14 years have gotten bigger by the year.

That makes for even bigger expectations within the program. Outside, the storyline is a little different. Picked to finish third in the East division this year, the “disrespected” theme is mainstream at this point. After all, there are still questions on defense.

With the departures of Markus Golden and Shane Ray, spots needed filling on the defensive line. Not to mention Harold Brantley’s car accident that ended his season before it even began and projected starter Marcus Loud’s dismissal from the program after breaking team rules.

That left just one defensive lineman on the Missouri roster who has ever started a Division I football game: Charles Harris. The sophomore got his lone start against Indiana last season, replacing an injured Golden. Four linemen, one D-Line Zou, one start.

If anyone knows how to turn a program’s defense around, it’s Barry Odom. In three years as defensive coordinator at the University of Memphis, he took the 117th overall total defense, and within a year, they ranked 50th in the country. By the time, he left three years later, Memphis was 22nd in total defense nationally and ranked fifth in points allowed (17.1 ppg), giving the school its first share of a conference title since 1971.

He won’t have to make that turnaround at Missouri, as the Tigers have already established a national reputation on the defensive side of the ball. But Odom doesn’t want the status quo.

He’s not Dave Steckel. But he sure acts like him sometimes.

“I feel like coach Odom is a younger version of Stec,” senior safety Ian Simon said. “The intensity is there, the love for the game, the passion, the want to get better every single day.”

Steckel, a Marine, was not shy about his intensity on the field in his tenure at Missouri. If anything, Odom’s players say their new coordinator is more intense than his predecessor.

That’s a high standard.

“He’s a real aggressive guy,” senior cornerback Kenya Dennis said with an uncomfortable laugh. “He’s always on me about being on my man. But we’ve got a pretty good relationship.”

Communication will be key for the Tigers this year on defense, so “being on his man” is not taken lightly. Odom will likely run a 3-4 package at times, where the linebackers will have more responsibility in man coverage.

This took getting used to. In the spring, Odom didn’t change things up too much with packages, but once summer workouts and fall camp started, film sessions were more intense and more complicated. This is a new defense.

“We’ve made a lot of improvements and we’ve moved people around,” senior linebacker Michael Scherer said. “We’ve added more schemes and more plays than we did in the spring.”

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