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Mizzou Football: Questions abound with the defensive backs

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We continue our look at each position group by examining the Mizzou secondary, which is looking for leaders after a few down years.

Missouri v Georgia Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

The countdown continues. We’re four full days away from Mizzou football. How are y’all getting ready? Personally, I’ll be singing, “Every True Son/Fight Tiger,” every morning, buying all the pumpkin beer I can get my hands on — sorry, haters, it’s good — and watching hype videos.

Now for a recommendation: you should be reading our position previews! We’re continuing our look at each position group on Mizzou’s roster. We’ve already covered defensive line and linebackers, and the offensive groups are coming this week. Today, we’re finishing up the defense by looking at the secondary. After a few down years, can the corners and safeties bounce back to make Missouri’s defense elite again?

NCAA Football: Georgia at Missouri John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

The secondary is dominated with youth, as underclassmen populate three-fourths of the depth chart. Which young players are you looking at to take a step up and lead the position group on and off the field?

Ryan Herrera, Football Beat Writer: Adam Sparks is a young guy I’m expecting to have a very solid 2018 season for Missouri. He earned a starting spot at cornerback as a freshman around the halfway point of last season, which also happened to be around the same time the Tigers went on their six-game winning streak. Sparks also registered two interceptions last season — the only returning secondary player to do so. He was slightly on the lighter side heading into camp (listed at 175 lbs on the Aug. 3 depth chart) and he is still young, but he’ll have plenty of opportunities to prove himself in Missouri’s defense.

Jack Parodi, Football Beat Writer: One underclassmen I’m looking at that will step up big time in Missouri’s secondary is sophomore corner Adam Sparks. He was inserted into the starting lineup for the last eight games of his true freshman season, contributing to the Tigers’ six-game win streak to end the 2017 regular season. His play seemed anything but what one would expect of a freshman, though. Sparks led the team with a pair of interceptions and ended the year second on the team with four pass break-ups. His athleticism and natural ball skills make him an exciting young player to watch this year.

Josh Matejka, Editor: I won’t disagree with Ryan and Jack. Adam Sparks cemented himself as a leader on the field last year when he earned a starting role, and he should only improve from there. It should be helpful for the rest of the young guys to see the way he made an immediate impact and learn from his example moving forward.

NCAA Football: Oregon at California Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Transfer Khalil Oliver is joining upper classmen Demarkus Acy and Cam Hilton as some of the more experienced defensive backs. What kind of impact should fans expect from the older guys in this group?

Ryan Herrera: Upperclassman like Acy and Hilton will start to begin the year, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see them have a shorter leash to start this season. The secondary is Missouri’s biggest concern on defense, and the depth chart has just as many underclassmen as it has experienced veterans. Acy flashed his ability at corner last season, but also led the team with eight penalties. Hilton has a lot of promise as a safety, but he hasn’t consistently started at the position and could use some work on his coverage abilities. With Oliver, it’s been almost a year since he played a game, and we really won’t know if he has completely recovered from his injury until games begin. This group of veterans will have big roles in the secondary and will definitely push the younger guys, but I don’t think their spots on the depth chart are set in stone until they prove otherwise.

Jack Parodi: Veteran leadership is more important in football more than any sport, and Missouri has a solid core of senior leaders in the secondary. Although two sophomores could start come Sept. 1, the older group of guys will bring the consistency to a secondary that, quite frankly, has been the weakest part of the team for some time now. Expect upperclassmen Demarkus Acy, Cam Hilton and Oregon transfer Khalil Oliver to help groom these young guys, while also playing a large role on the team. Acy will likely be Missouri’s No. 1 corner in 2018, hoping to build off a solid 2017 season in which he proved he could contribute to both the pass and run defenses. Expect these seniors to contribute solidly, but also keep the young talents of Sparks and Joshuah Bledsoe in check throughout the season.

Josh Matejka: In my opinion, this is one of the questions that could make the difference between a good and great Missouri football season. The secondary has been the major weak spot on defense for the past few years, and it will be on Acy/Hilton/Oliver’s shoulders to change that. All three have promising qualities, but they also all come with questions. Ultimately, I think Oliver and Acy will cement themselves in their starting positions and lead the way for some marked improvement in the secondary. I’m less sure about Hilton, but if they all took a step up, Missouri will be scary.