It might be fair to say Missouri football's defensive backs have been a suspect group the last few seasons.

Here's one bit of evidence: The group of returners in practices this fall accounted for only six interceptions last season. Head coach Barry Odom thinks the addition of David Gibbs as the defensive backs coach this year will help increase that number. 

But the depth of the talented cornerbacks still around instills confidence, too. Christian Holmes, Adam Sparks and Richaud Floyd, who has been moved from wide receiver to defensive back, all saw limited playing time last season as they battled injuries. 

Add those three next to DeMarkus Acy and Jarvis Ware, and it may be one of the deepest backfields the Tigers have had. But depth without talent doesn't mean much to Odom.

"As long as you look at depth, and we do, you want guys that can play winning football. And I think we have a core group of guys at that position who can step in and play," he said. 

Odom has already praised safeties Tyree Gillespie and Joshua Bledsoe as one of the strongest duos Missouri has ever had at that position. If the expectations around them, the cornerbacks and Gibbs are met, the team could move themselves up the SEC leaderboard in takeaways. 

Minor injuries sideline key players 

Gillespie wore a no-contact red jersey at Friday's practice. He worked with athletic trainers Thursday to stretch out his hips and legs, but apparently that wasn't enough to leave him feeling 100 percent. Odom said the injury was a muscle strain around the hip, but didn't specify how long he would be out of practice. 

Senior Johnathon Johnson also wore the no-contact jersey but was able to take some reps at punt return. His injury appeared minor, and Odom announced only that his foot had been stepped on.

Avoiding injuries might be a little more important for Johnson this season. His connection with new quarterback Kelly Bryant is poised to move him up Missouri's all-time receiving yards list. If he tallies another 700 yards, as he did last season, he could move into the top five in Missouri history. 

"He's a good, veteran guy. He's a smart player, very knowledgeable about the game and what we're trying to do on the offense," Bryant said. 

Freshmen Jalani Williams and C.J. Boone sat out of practice for similar reasons. They both had dental work done that didn't allow them to go full speed. Odom joked that the scheduling wasn't ideal. 

"I guess yesterday was the time to go to the dentist," he said. 

Fan event scheduled for Saturday

The football team will host its annual 'Meet the Tigers' event at 6 p.m. Saturday at the Dan Devine Indoor Practice Pavilion. 

Fans will have the chance to meet current players and coaches, get autographs and take pictures. The Missouri volleyball team will also be available for autographs and pictures. 

Admission to the event is free, and fans are asked to bring only one item per person for players to sign. Parking is available at the stadium.

Supervising editor is Michael Knisley. 

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