The Missouri Tigers finished the 2018 season 8-5, losing to Oklahoma State in the Liberty Bowl.
This fall, they’ll return a number of key contributors, but some of the losses lost will be difficult to replace — namely, star QB Drew Lock, WR Emanuel Hall, DL Terry Beckner Jr. and LB Terez Hall.
Therefore, this spring is crucial for coach Barry Odom and the Tigers, who need to keep this program moving forward even amid harsh NCAA sanctions that will prevent them from playing in the postseason this fall.
So, what are some of the key things the Tigers need to show fans this spring? Here’s a look at 10 things I’d like to see from Mizzou before their annual spring game Saturday, April 13:
1. The Kelly Bryant/Derek Dooley relationship
Drew Lock seemed to get along great with first-year OC Derek Dooley last year, but now Dooley has a new quarterback to work with. Obviously, the Clemson graduate transfer quarterback has a different set of skills than Lock, so Dooley will need to tailor his offense accordingly.
So far, Bryant seems to be liking Mizzou, and if he can develop into an all-around passer, his legs will make the Tigers’ offense very dangerous in 2019. Last year, the spring game was incredibly boring (by design). Hopefully, Dooley shows a bit more this time around.
2. Shawn Robinson
No, the TCU transfer quarterback isn’t eligible for the 2019 season, but he figures to be the Tigers’ starter in 2020 and 2021 after sitting out this fall. Therefore, I hope we get a good look at him this spring, too, so we can get a glimpse of the future.
The Tigers will obviously need to focus primarily on getting Bryant, Taylor Powell and Lindsey Scott Jr. ready, since they’re eligible to play this fall, but Robinson should get a chance to show what he can do, too.
3. A backup running back emerge
Tyler Badie showed some flashes of brilliance last season, especially as a receiver, so he’ll be the favorite to land some carries behind starter Larry Rountree III. Simi Bakare and Dawson Downing will compete for carries too, though, so that competition should be a lot of fun to watch.
4. Albert Okwuegbunam’s health
Albert O hurt his shoulder in the Tigers’ big win over Florida and was unable to return for the rest of the year. He’s back in action now, but he’s taking things slow this spring.
If he’s healthy this fall, though, he’s the best tight end in the SEC and perhaps the country. He’d be a huge weapon for Bryant, so getting him ready for Week 1 should be one of the team’s biggest priorities.
5. New offensive linemen
The past two seasons, the Tigers have been able to plug in the same starting five and not worry about it. Now, though, they have two holes to fill, as Paul Adams and Kevin Pendleton are off to the NFL Draft.
In the first depth chart released by Barry Odom last week, the left guard position has both Larry Borom and Case Cook listed as starters. Over at right tackle, it appears as though Hyrin White will get the first crack at the starting job.
Settling those positions will be key to keeping the running game dominant in 2019 and beyond.
6. A new leader emerge among the receivers
Replacing Emanuel Hall won’t be easy, but having a quarterback like Bryant provides an interesting opportunity for some new receivers to emerge. Lock clearly had his best chemistry with Hall and guys like Johnathon Johnson (above) and Okwuegbunam, though some of the freshmen had good showings in 2018.
Bryant might be able to help young guys like Kam Scott and Jalen Knox become stars, as they showed flashes of brilliance last fall. There will be more receptions to go around to fill Hall’s shoes, so it’ll be exciting to see who steps up this spring.
Johnson figures to be the leader of the unit, but there will be other starting jobs open before the 2019 campaign kicks off.
7. Jordan Elliott’s takeover
With Terry Beckner Jr. off to the NFL, Elliott, the former Texas Longhorn needs to step in and keep the D-Line U tradition going in Columbia. Elliott played well last year, recording 24 tackles (8 for a loss) and 3 sacks as a redshirt sophomore.
Now, it’ll be his show. He’ll be the big name along the defensive line, and he’ll need to take another big step forward to keep the defense competitive.
8. Which freshmen make an impact
Barry Odom brought in his best class yet as head coach of the Tigers, headlined by 4-star S Jalani Williams. With some openings in the secondary, Williams could make an immediate impact, as could first-year DB Ishmael Burdine.
On offense, we should get a look at WR C.J. Boone this month. Yes, the Tigers are loaded at the position, but having depth is never a bad thing.
9. Is Cale Garrett ready to be the unquestioned leader of the defense?
The talented linebacker had 105 tackles in 2017 and 112 tackles in 2018, finishing fifth in the SEC both years. This season, he could have his best year yet, and he’ll need to, as the Tigers will need even more now that Terez Hall is gone.
Yes, it’ll be important to keep Garrett healthy this spring, but it’ll be equally important to see if he’s taken the next step as a player.
10. More passion from Barry Odom
So far this offseason, I’ve loved nearly everything Odom has done. He’s fired back at the NCAA over a 2019 postseason ban. He landed two talented transfer quarterbacks. And, he opened practices to the media.
It’s nice to see this passion and fire coming before a season instead of after a series of tough losses. Hopefully, Odom continues to push the right buttons for this team. He seems popular with the players, and that will only be a good thing moving toward August.