Drew Lock is back. Now it’s up to Derek Dooley to take advantage
The Missouri Tigers saw the momentum from the second half of their 2017 regular season halted a little bit when they were blown out in the Texas Bowl by the Texas Longhorns.
However, that wasn’t a great indication of how the team played in the second half of the season, as offensive coordinator Josh Heupel and offensive line coach Glen Elarbee were absent as they prepared for their new jobs at UCF (where Heupel will take over for Scott Frost as head coach).
Though the entire UCF staff remained on board through the bowl game before heading to Nebraska, Heupel and Elarbee decided they would not remain with the Tigers through the Texas Bowl, and it showed.
Still, there’s reason for optimism in Columbia, as star quarterback Drew Lock recently announced he’d return to Mizzou for his senior season in 2018:
Proud to be a TRUE SON… pic.twitter.com/xNK4aTfCGT
— Drew Lock (@DrewLock23) January 9, 2018
Lock said he was waiting until Mizzou hired a new offensive coordinator to make his decision on whether to leave and declare for the NFL draft. The Tigers gave the job to former Tennessee coach Derek Dooley; the fan base has met the hire mostly with disdain but Lock is back on board.
On the surface, Dooley fits what the Tigers’ strengths were under Heupel. Dooley has spent the past five seasons as the Dallas Cowboys’ wide receivers coach, and coaching that position is his strength.
He’ll have Emanuel Hall, Johnathon Johnson, Richaud Floyd and tight end Albert Okwuegbunam returning to lead a stacked receiving corps. He’ll also inherit two solid running backs in Damarea Crockett and Larry Rountree III and a veteran offensive line with plenty of starting experience.
However, Dooley’s first year in Columbia will be defined by how well he continues to develop Lock, the rising senior with the potential to work his way into the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft if he has another big year.
Lock led the nation in touchdown passes last year, throwing 44 to edge Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield’s 43. Still, Lock’s decision-making could use some work, as he tossed several interceptions early in games and finished the year with 13 picks.
While Heupel’s fast-paced offense certainly helped Lock put up big numbers, it didn’t do him any favors in terms of reading defenses. The Tigers often snapped the ball so quickly that Lock didn’t have time to survey the opponent’s defensive alignment.
Heupel’s offense works well against weaker defenses (so look out, American Athletic Conference), but against tougher squads like Auburn, South Carolina and Georgia (among others), it often led the Tigers into an even bigger hole.
The Tigers have the talent to line up and go fast against most teams in 2018, but Dooley would be wise to let Lock take just a few more seconds to make pre-snap reads, which could help him avoid costly interceptions.
Dooley never has been in charge of calling plays or coaching quarterbacks during his career, so to say coach Barry Odom’s decision to hire him was a head-scratcher is an understatement.
However, it’s his show now, and he’d be wise to keep using Lock as much as possible. He doesn’t need the offense to go as fast as Heupel’s did, but the Tigers play their best when they catch the defense off-guard.
Lock showed some Aaron Rodgers-esque ability in catching opposing defenses in the middle of substitutions in 2017 and clearly has an NFL mind. He just needs some more fine-tuning before he turns pro.
With so many talented juniors entering the 2018 NFL Draft, Lock could work his way into the No. 1 overall pick discussion in 2019. It’ll be up to Dooley to get Lock to that point, but he struggled as a head coach with a Tennessee offense loaded with NFL talent.
The first four games of the 2018 season (vs. UT Martin, vs. Wyoming, at Purdue and vs. Georgia) will go a long way toward showing if Dooley has learned anything from his past failures, or whether Lock’s NFL Draft stock is in trouble.