Missouri’s August preseason camp begins on Friday, and new Rock M Nation football writers Jack Parodi and Ryan Herrera take a look at the biggest story lines to follow — along with where Missouri stands — a month ahead of the start of the season.
What is the biggest storyline around the team as we enter August camp?
Ryan Herrera: The biggest storyline in my mind is “who will start at running back Week 1?” Damarea Crockett and Larry Rountree III are both listed as co-starters on the latest depth chart, and they play a similar ground game. Both are power-backs with speed, and both have been a part of running back tandems in their time at Missouri. Rountree may not have seen the field as much last season if it weren’t for Crockett’s midseason injury, but he emerged as a very capable back for the Tigers.
Crockett was Missouri’s original starter last season and coach Barry Odom has raved about how great he looked in the spring and summer, which makes him the most likely starter come September. Still, without a real view of a healthy Crockett, it’ll be interesting to see if Rountree can turn his impressive 2017 season into the No. 1 spot this fall.
Jack Parodi: How Drew Lock and the rest of the offense will mesh with Derek Dooley’s system. Lock led one of the most prolific offenses in the SEC last year, scoring over 37 points and 488 total yards per game under Josh Heupel. With Heupel moving on to be UCF’s head coach, it’s going to be a big change for the Missouri offense. They’ll move from an up-tempo spread offense to a more traditional pro-style offense. A two-headed beast in the backfield of Larry Rountree III and Damarea Crockett fit into that kind of an offense pretty well, and this new offense will allow Missouri to use tight end Albert Okwuegbunam more.
2. Which position is Missouri’s biggest concern on offense? On defense?
Herrera: Offense: Out of all the returners from Missouri’s high-powered offense in 2017, there remains a hole: receiver. J’Mon Moore, the current Green Bay Packers receiver and Drew Lock’s top target in 2017, was selected in the 4th round of the NFL Draft and took his team-leading 1,082 receiving yards with him. The Tigers are bringing back their second and third leading receivers in Emanuel Hall (817 yards) and Johnathon Johnson (724 yards), but the loss of Moore combined with the question marks left at the third receiver spot will have a big impact on how this offense is run in 2018.
Defense: The biggest concern of this squad is the secondary. If it seemed like a mess last year, it hasn’t looked any more settled heading into the 2018 season. There isn’t a whole lot of experience to go around, with sophomores holding the starting spots at both strong safety and corner back (and one is a converted outside linebacker, no less). There’s also the inconsistency that comes with a guy as penalty prone as DeMarkus Acy has been. With the added loss of Kaleb Prewitt for, uh, non-football related reasons, this secondary could make or break Missouri’s chances of making another bowl game this year.
Parodi: Wide receiver. Although Emanuel Hall had a breakout 2017 season and will surely improve as Lock’s No. 1 wide-out, the receiving corps isn’t deep. Senior Nate Brown will likely be Missouri’s No. 2 receiving option, followed by junior Johnathon Johnson. While Hall and Okwuegbunam will take some pressure off Brown and Johnson to have big years, they’ll have to step up if Missouri’s offense will be as dominant as some predict.
Missouri’s biggest concern on defense is the secondary as a whole. Three out of the four starters in the secondary last year are returning this season; and although they’ll surely improve on their performances last year, the Tigers’ pass defense was a major weakness in 2017. Opposing quarterbacks completed nearly 60 percent of their passes and threw for over 250 yards per game. While those numbers are sure to improve, Missouri’s secondary will be a wild card in 2018.
3. Which position is Missouri’s biggest strength on offense? On defense?
Herrera: Offense: I honestly thought about going with Missouri’s experience at O-Line here, but I’m going with the popular opinion that its biggest strength is at quarterback. Lock is arguably the best QB in the SEC and is at the very least top-10 in the nation. He broke the SEC single-season passing touchdown record with 44 last year — which also led the nation — and he’ll be playing in what will hopefully be the best offensive system he’s had in Columbia. With East Mississippi CC transfer and NJCAA national champion Lindsey Scott Jr. likely to win the backup job, the QB situation looks secure for 2018.
Defense: Any unit that has a player of Terry Beckner Jr.’s ability will usually be a team’s biggest strength, and I’m going to stick with that. Beckner was tied for the team lead in sacks and was third in tackles for a loss in 2017, which was the first season he played completely healthy. A clean bill of health last season plus a full offseason should pay dividends for the returning senior, and he should garner some All-SEC First Team votes by season’s end. Add in the experience guys like Rashad Brandon and Walter Palmore bring and the potential sophomores Tre Williams and Chris Turner showed, and that could be enough to make this one of the tougher defenses in the conference.
Parodi: This is an obvious answer, right? Quarterback. Lock set the SEC single-season touchdown record with 44 a year ago. He completed 57.8 percent of his passes and threw for nearly 4,000 yards. A monster 2017 season puts the senior on the Heisman Trophy watch list for 2018, as well as some projections of Lock being the first quarterback taken in the 2019 NFL Draft. It’s going to be hard for him to replicate the numbers he put up a season ago, but Lock isn’t concerned about that. The Lee’s Summit native grew up a Missouri fan and came to Columbia to win football games. He’ll do everything in his power to do so in his senior campaign. That being said, it should be a fun year watching Lock sling the football.
Missouri has gotten the reputation of consistently having one of the best defensive lines in the country year in and year out, and 2018 is no different. The second-ranked player nationally in the Class of 2015, Terry Beckner Jr. leads a young but talented group. Beckner totaled 35 tackles last year, including seven sacks and 11 tackles for loss. He’ll likely be joined by a trio of sophomores in ends Tre Williams and Chris Turner; and tackle Kobie Whiteside. Williams made the SEC All-Freshman team in 2017, racking up three sacks and four tackles for loss in his 20 tackles. He should be an exciting player to watch with another year of development under his belt. Turner and Whiteside didn’t see the field as often as Williams last season, but have impressed the Missouri coaching staff thus far. Expect this group to have a big season pressuring opposing quarterbacks.
4. What’s your level of concern as Missouri transitions to a new offense under Derek Dooley?
Herrera: I don’t think there’s a need to be too concerned with the transition to Dooley until we get a real look at the offense at fall camp. Dooley is bringing a new pro-style, “Wikipedia” approach (as he calls it) and could be just what the offense needs to truly become elite. Dooley has coached every offensive skill position besides QB before with most of that experience coming from very solid college and NFL systems, and he said he’s going to try to mesh what he’s learned with what the Tigers’ offense already knows. Lock asked for pro-style passing schemes and had somewhat of a say in Dooley’s hiring, and if the leader of the offense isn’t too concerned about the transition, I won’t be either...yet.
Parodi: I’m not too concerned at all. As I said before, Rountree and Crockett fit into a pro-style offense extremely well, and Okuwegbuman will flourish playing a more snaps in a more traditional tight end role. That will in turn take a lot of pressure off Brown and Johnson to come in and try to replace Moore’s production at wide receiver, helping Missouri’s offense flourish. Lock may not put up the numbers he did a season ago, but he should perform at a high level in Dooley’s offense. The passing game will get opened up much more this year by establishing the run. This will allow Lock to throw bombs down the field to Hall and become a more efficient passer. Another positive with Dooley’s offense is the tempo. While Missouri’s up-tempo spread offense under Heupel was effective, it left the defense out on the field for the majority of the game. Dooley’s slower paced offense will let the Missouri defense get more rest and will give opposing offenses less possessions throughout the game. It’ll be a big transition for the Tigers to make, but I think things will be just fine.
5. Which newcomer makes the biggest splash this August?
Herrera: I’d say Lindsey Scott Jr., but that splash could be either good or bad. Missouri is looking for its QB of the future once Lock is done, and they might just have that in Scott. He’s undersized compared to conventional QBs, though, and the SEC is a much different animal than the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges. This August will be his chance to make a “splash” and prove that Missouri has the man it’s looking for, or it could prove to Odom that he and his staff might need to keep looking.
Parodi: Wide receiver Alex Ofodile. The Rock Bridge High School alum went to Oregon for two ho-hum years before deciding to transfer to Missouri. Another reason many believe Ofodile transferred was because his father, AJ, was just recently named the Tigers’ wide receivers coach. Ofodile was one of the more prolific wide receivers in the Class of 2015. He totaled 1,610 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns during his senior year at Rock Bridge, as he was named the MSHSAA Class 6 Offensive Player of the Year and the 12th wide receiver prospect in his class, according to 247 Sports. If his previous foot injuries don’t hinder his play, Ofodile will showcase his raw talent and possibly earn himself some playing time in 2018.