Barry Odom knows his defense needs to improve after it has dropped off since he became head coach in 2016, which is why he’s leaning on an old friend and former Chiefs assistant.
Odom has known Texas Tech defensive coordinator David Gibbs for years and Odom told reporters after Friday’s practice that he has sought Gibbs’ advice to try and get the Tigers to force more turnovers, something they used to be quite good at.
“Really just emphasizing in the meetings, making it a mindset that somehow someway get the ball back to our offense,” Odom said of Gibbs’ message.
Gibbs, who coached the Chiefs secondary from 2006-08, has turned the Red Raiders into one of the nation’s leaders in turnovers and turnover margin.
Under Gary Pinkel, Missouri had a 47-game streak in which the Tigers forced a turnover, which was one of the longest in college football before it ended in 2014.
Missouri returns a lot of young talent in its secondary after the departure of Kansas State transfer Kaleb Prewett, who was dismissed from the team for a violation of team rules, and the graduation of Anthony Sherrils and Logan Cheadle.
Prewett’s absence leaves senior Cam Hilton as the leader of a unit that got torched by quarterbacks during Missouri’s 1-5 start, but gradually got better.
So far, the young guys seemed to have stepped up.
Quarterback Drew Lock went out of his way after Wednesday’s practice to say the secondary has been tipping a lot more of his passes in fall camp than in previous years.
“We don’t like it when Drew is completing passes, but we also know Drew is an NFL quarterback, so he’s going to give us the best look,” sophomore cornerback Adam Sparks said. “If we can stop him, we can stop anyone in the SEC.”
Sparks was thrown in the fire as a true freshman. He played in all 13 games and tied for the team lead in interceptions with two.
He said he gained 20 pounds of muscle over the offseason and feels a lot more comfortable on the field.
“This has been a lot different,” he said. “I feel more confident. As I gain confidence I’m able to slow things down. And I I’m trusting my teammates.”
Odom said he’s tried to get players like Sparks to be more active on plays because tipped passes are more likely to result in turnovers. He added that Missouri could use more zone defense to put more pressure on teams’ passing games.
“Tipped balls, they usually end in the defense’s favor and the majority of those happen that way,” Odom said. “Every day of the week, if you ask our guys what we need to improve, it’s turnover margin. Finding ways to get it back to our offense.”
Also returning is sophomore cornerback Christian Holmes, who missed last season because of a shoulder injury.
Sophomore DeMarkus Acy improved over the course of last season, but was regularly called for pass interference. Acy said he’s spent a lot of time working on his technique to try and be more hands off when matched up against receivers.
“He shouldn’t have any problems with penalties,” Holmes said of Acy.
Missouri also adds Oregon graduate transfer Khalil Oliver, who takes on Prewett’s role as veteran who can mentor the underclassmen.
Oliver arrived from Oregon in July and has been learning the playbook. Despite his lack of experience with Missouri’s defense, he’s already been able to give a few pointers on how to read offense and routes.
“(I’m) trying to help them cheat,” Oliver said. “They’re so focused on the receiver in front of them they don’t realize that they can make it easier on themselves.”
While Missouri’s secondary has a few more weeks to get game ready, someone will have to step up as the Tigers enter one of the most crucial years in program history.
Gibbs might want to keep his phone close, just in case.