PowerMizzou - Barry Odom talks NCAA sanctions, Kelly Bryant, spring depth chart
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Barry Odom talks NCAA sanctions, Kelly Bryant, spring depth chart

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With Missouri set to begin spring football practices for the 2019 season on Sunday, fourth-year head coach Barry Odom sat down with members of the media Wednesday to discuss the team and preview the season. Odom covered a lot of ground, touching on the postseason ban and other sanctions recently handed down by the NCAA, new quarterback Kelly Bryant, his coaching staff and the team's first depth chart of the spring. Below are 10 takeaways from the conversation.

Missouri head coach Barry Odom met with members of the media Wednesday to preview spring football.
Missouri head coach Barry Odom met with members of the media Wednesday to preview spring football. (Jordan Kodner)

Even though the sanctions ordered by the NCAA have him doing “double recruiting” in order to keep his current roster in place, Odom still doesn’t believe any members of the team will transfer. As part of Missouri’s punishment, other schools are free to contact any player with one year of eligibility remaining, and those players may transfer to another school and receive a waiver to play right away, rather than sitting out one season. While Missouri has appealed the rest of the penalties, causing them to be stayed until a decision is reached about the appeal, other schools can continue to contact Tiger seniors until classes begin next fall. Odom has publicly expressed his displeasure with some schools’ constant communication with players — he singled out Tennessee in an interview with CBS Sports earlier this month — and he also broached the issue at a meeting of SEC coaches that was held in Birmingham, Ala., two weeks ago. He said Wednesday that he is “taking a lot of notes” about which schools have bombarded his players.

“Everybody in this room would be lying if they said they didn’t like being told how good they are, and our guys are being told, some of them more than others, but every day they’re contacted by somebody selling them that the picture somewhere else is a lot better than they’re current situation,” Odom said.

Perhaps the most sought-after senior on Missouri’s roster by other teams, Bryant, has already stated publicly that he plans to stay with Missouri. But Odom is going on the offensive to make sure the Clemson transfer remains on the roster for Missouri’s season-opener at Wyoming on Aug. 31.

“I have not relaxed one bit on Kelly Bryant going or staying,” Odom said. “The statement’s great, and he says he’s in, and he’s in, but you also better protect your roster.”

One way Odom and his staff have sought to keep Bryant around is by guaranteeing that he will start at quarterback next season (which likely would have been the case had no sanctions been ordered). Odom handed out the team’s first depth chart of the spring Wednesday and all other newcomers were listed at the bottom of their respective positions, but not Bryant. “Kelly is our starter,” Odom declared.

Odom praised Bryant’s leadership skills and said he has an “infectious personality.” Even though Bryant is new to Missouri’s roster, Odom said his experience is evident. Bryant started 18 games for Clemson during the past two seasons and led it to a College Football Playoff appearance in 2017.

“You can tell he’s an experienced guy,” Odom said. “He’s been in the locker room before with developing relationships and how important that is from the quarterback position, I’m excited to see how that transfers over.”

Barry Odom said he has "not relaxed one bit" in making sure Kelly Bryant remains on Missouri's roster for 2019.
Barry Odom said he has "not relaxed one bit" in making sure Kelly Bryant remains on Missouri's roster for 2019. (Jordan Kodner)

Bryant wasn’t the only newcomer Missouri added at quarterback this season. TCU transfer Shawn Robinson is already on campus, though he will have to sit out this season. The Tigers also signed incoming freshman Connor Bazelak. While the addition of three quarterbacks addressed perhaps the most pressing need on the roster, Odom said it also created some “tense moments” for the coaching staff. Odom recognized that the arrival of Bryant, Bazelak and Robinson could cause the returning quarterbacks on the roster to flee, leaving the true freshman Bazelak as the only eligible backup to Bryant this season. He also at one point feared that the additions of Bryant and Robinson might prompt Bazelak to back out of his verbal commitment prior to the early signing period. However, Bazelak signed, and as of Wednesday, both Taylor Powell and Lindsey Scott Jr. remain with the team. Odom complimented offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Derek Dooley for managing the situation.

“One of the things that Derek Dooley did well is communicate with Kelly, with Shawn and with Connor through the whole process so there wasn’t any of them caught off guard by signing another quarterback, bringing in another guy,” he said.

Even with Powell and Scott back, there were two departures from the quarterbacks room, but both players will remain a part of the team this season. Redshirt sophomore Micah Wilson has made the switch from quarterback to wide receiver. Odom said Wilson approached the coaching staff about the decision, and he anticipates Wilson playing wideout full-time this spring. Senior Jack Lowary has retired from playing, but he will graduate in May and work with the team as a student-assistant next season.

“I would like to be able to keep him around after he graduates in some capacity, because he understands our game, he knows our offense, and I think he’s got a chance to be a really good coach,” Odom said of Lowary.

Aside from Lowary, another notable name was missing from the depth chart Odom handed out Wednesday: defensive end Tre Williams. Williams was arrested in December on suspicion of domestic assault and suspended from the team as a result. Odom said Williams remains enrolled in classes at Missouri but he is still suspended and cannot participate in practices with the team.

One other interesting inclusion on the depth chart was a twelfth defensive position: the “boundary” defender. After joking that he plans to play 12 men on defense this season, Odom explained that the position should be interchangeable with the strong and free safety spots from a personnel standpoint. Junior Tyree Gillespie is currently listed as the “boundary” starter. Defensive coordinator Ryan Walters will coach all three of those spots, in addition to the strongside linebackers. Odom also said that strongside linebacker position, which was manned by Brandon Lee and Ronnell Perkins last season, will be interchangeable with the strong safety position that currently appears on the depth chart. Redshirt freshman Gerald Nathan Jr. is currently listed as the starter at strongside linebacker, but Odom said Perkins and senior Khalil Oliver will also be able to play there, depending on the situation.

Defensive coordinator Ryan Walters (above) will coach the safeties and strongside linebackers this season, while David Gibbs will coach cornerbacks.
Defensive coordinator Ryan Walters (above) will coach the safeties and strongside linebackers this season, while David Gibbs will coach cornerbacks. (Liv Paggiarino)

Odom didn’t only have to recruit his senior players to remain with the team this offseason. He also had to fight to keep several assistant coaches on staff. Odom said seven of the 10 full-time assistant coaches on Missouri’s staff “had multiple opportunities to go somewhere else this offseason.” In the end, only tight end coach Joe Jon Finley and outside linebackers coach Brian Odom, Barry’s brother, departed. Missouri replaced Finely by promoting former offensive analyst Garrick McGee to wide receivers coach and assigning A.J. Ofodile to the tight ends. Odom also hired former Texas Tech defensive coordinator David Gibbs to coach cornerbacks and assigned the outside linebacker group to Walters.

Odom said Gibbs has brought a wealth of experience to the coaching staff, and he pointed out his past ability to generate turnovers with his units. When he was the defensive coordinator at Houston, Gibbs’ defenses ranked first nationally in takeaways in 2013 and fifth in 2014. Odom joked that he “carries around a lucky charm or something.”

“David got here in January, and we’re a better team for it, we’re a better staff,” Odom said. “He’s been able to provide a lot of experience, some good ideas, and the corners need some individual instruction.”

As a whole, Odom said his coaching staff is “as good of a group as I’ve been around.” He said he will still be open to adding an analyst or two to the staff before next fall, like the team did last summer with McGee and Ted Monachino, who has since been hired by the Chicago Bears.

Asked about Missouri’s performance on special teams in 2018, Odom didn’t hold back. He said the Tigers “weren’t very good” in the third phase of the game a season ago. Odom said longtime assistant Andy Hill will continue to coordinate the special teams, but other assistants will help Hill with various facets of special teams play.

“The number of times that we had a breakdown in assignment was not where we needed to be,” Odom said. “So it will be all hands on deck on making that an opportunity for us to be an advantage. When you look at the things we need to do to be able to win games, we need to have that in our favor.”

The one aspect of special teams Odom said was solid last season, punter, is currently up in the air due to the graduation of four-year starter Corey Fatony. Wednesday’s depth chart listed senior placekicker Tucker McCann as the starting punter as well as the starting kicker. Odom said McCann would begin the spring as the top punter, but the staff would evaluate other options as well, including sophomore walk-on Josh Dodge.

“We need Dodge to come on and provide some things for us, and then also we have a group of guys coming in in June on a walk-on opportunity,” Odom said. “We’ll get the right person there.”

Looking ahead to spring practices, Odom said there will be a handful of players limited due to lingering injuries. The most notable player of the group will be tight end Albert Okwuegbunam, who missed the final four games of last season due to a shoulder injury. Odom still didn’t provide specifics about the mysterious injury, but he said Okwuegbunam will be “very limited” in what he does during spring practices. Odom also said that the injury factored into Okwuegbunam’s decision to return to school rather than declare for the NFL Draft.

“He made a mature decision on getting all the information that he could,” Odom said. “The injury part was part of that. … He would not have been able to be 100 percent to really showcase what he can do leading up to the draft.”

Cornerback Adam Sparks is also still battling an injury from last season. Sparks missed the last five games of the year due to a lower leg injury. Odom characterized the injury as “similar to a stress fracture” and said Sparks underwent surgery during the offseason in which he had a rod inserted into his leg.

“He’ll be limited obviously this spring,” Odom said, “but think he has a chance to come back and finally be healthy, which would be awesome.”