The Missouri football team began preseason camp on a cloudy, muggy Tuesday morning by going through calisthenics on the Mizzou Athletics Training Center field to Drake and Young Thug's "Ice Melts" bumping through the speakers.

Barry Odom doesn't share too many similarities with Drake, but he can at least relate to a line the Canadian superstar repeats throughout the song as the calendar turns to August and the 2017 season opener against Missouri State lingers 31 days in the distance: "A little less talk and a little more action."

Football is back, and Odom and his staff return to the grind with a sense of urgency to prove that the struggles of 2016 can and will be — to borrow from the coach's SEC Media Days news conference last month — fixed.

"I'm excited to have a chance to coach these guys, because I know what they've done in the last six months, the investment they've put in," Odom said to the first postpractice media scrum of the fall after Day 1 of the 24-day preseason period. "I'm pretty fired up.

"It's one day in, but I like where we're at."

Both Odom and defensive coordinator DeMontie Cross said the 2017 senior class, citing the vocal leadership of players such as Eric Beisel and J'Mon Moore, is responsible for producing the urgency surrounding the team, which Cross said has been "unmatched to anything we came close to last year."

"They really have changed the dynamics of what we're looking for out of our team, and we're just the guys now that are monitoring what they do," Cross said. "They actually do a lot of team meetings on their own and discuss a lot of things, and it's all been in the right direction."

The seniors' attitude toward the season showed when senior offensive tackle Tyler Howell was asked about the position group's expectations after its breakout 2016 campaign. Howell, who was one of three offensive linemen to start every game last fall, couldn’t wait for the question to end before bluntly giving his answer.

"High. Ten times higher than last year," Howell said. "Last year was nothing. We've got to get better, just keep building on it.

"Personally, I think I played like trash," he added. "We've just got to get better." 

Howell also acknowledged that the internal countdown clock that sets in at the beginning of senior year has been one of his biggest motivators to push past what the position group accomplished last fall. 

"Fully selling out," Howell said. "You can do that every year, but when it’s your last year guaranteed, you just start to think about it differently, like, 'This is all you've got, so you've got to make the most of it.'"

One of the most encouraging sights at Tuesday's practice was junior defensive lineman Terry Beckner Jr. returning to the field after tearing his ACL against Middle Tennessee State in Week 7 and missing the remainder of last season. Beckner — who also made the switch from No. 79 to a slimming, single-digit No. 5 — worked his way through the standard Day 1 agility drills and sled work and joined the rest of his fellow defensive linemen in sporting black-and-gold knee braces.

After practice, Odom said both the coaching staff and Rex Sharp, associate athletic director and director of the Dr. Glenn L. McElroy M.D. Sports Medicine Center, would continue to monitor Beckner's condition during camp and limit reps if need be.

"I want him to focus on not trying to do too much and just go be yourself," Odom said.

Cross was confident in Beckner Jr.'s condition but also stressed urgency with regard to the development of the defensive line into a cohesive unit.

"He understands where he's at at this point," Cross said. "The live action (when the team gets pads on) really will be a true test for him, but he's excited.

"Those guys (the members of the defensive line) have been the heartbeat of the program for a while and (have) got to figure out a way to come together through this camp," he added, "because we rely on them to lead us up front."

Senior defensive lineman Jordan Harold, who joins fellow senior Marcell Frazier as the two most experienced returning players on the line, said Becker Jr. has struggled getting back into the swing of things at times but has a hunger to start making an impact again.

"It kinda got a little tough for him, but sometimes I just look at him and say, 'Terry, I need you,' and he'll just pull it together," Harold said.

A successful reimmersion into the trenches for Becker Jr. will be crucial for Missouri entering the 2017 season. The Tigers' defensive line will have to account for the loss of standout Charles Harris to the NFL and is currently operating without Nate Howard, who was suspended indefinitely from the team after his arrest for drug possession in July, and junior college transfers Walter Palmore and Malik Young. Odom said Palmore would be at practice Wednesday and Young is waiting to be cleared academically before he can join the team. Sophomore Markell Utsey is going through the acclimation period with Beckner Jr. after he, too, had a season-ending ACL injury in 2016.

That's a lot, especially for a position group that allowed an average of 233 rushing yards per game last season and is also transitioning from Jackie Shipp to new defensive line coach Brick Haley.

"It's a lot of urgency, especially with all the moving around and people leaving," Harold said. "It puts a chip on everybody's shoulder in the room because of the doubt from outside and also lets us know internally to compete.

"A lot of people have been doubting us, especially how the last three years (have) been with the whole 'D-Line Zou' thing. We plan to shock the world. With everybody we've got coming in, everybody we have, we plan to produce."

Missouri will have a closed practice Wednesday then re-open practice to the media on Thursday morning.

Supervising editor is Pete Bland.

  • Assistant Sports Editor for the Columbia Missourian

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