Post-spring report card: What Mizzou does well, needs to do better
The Missouri Tigers have wrapped up spring practices, and the team is looking good heading into the 2019 season.
Now, though, coach Barry Odom and his players are stuck playing a waiting game, as it is still unclear whether the Tigers’ 2019 postseason ban will be overturned by the NCAA. There’s a lot of support for Mizzou, with many thinking the penalties are overly harsh based on the infractions and the level of cooperation the Tigers have shown.
Until then, everything is up in the air. Yes, this looks like a team that can make some noise in the SEC East, but if the postseason ban is upheld, it might be too big of a blow to the team’s morale to overcome.
For now, though, let’s take a look at where the Tigers stand heading into the summer:
QB situation: A-
Losing Drew Lock (a potential first-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft) obviously hurts, but the Tigers did about as good of a job as they possibly could have in rebuilding at the position.
This offseason, they landed a commitment from Clemson graduate transfer Kelly Bryant for 2019 and got former TCU QB Shawn Robinson to come to Columbia. Bryant has already been named the starter for 2019 and Robinson will be the favorite to start in 2020 and 2021 after he sits out this fall due to NCAA transfer rules.
There might still be some growing pains as Bryant tries to get comfortable in OC Derek Dooley’s offensive scheme, but he has plenty of talent to make sure the Tigers continue to be one of the most-dynamic offenses in the SEC.
Running game: B
With Damarea Crockett heading to the NFL, Larry Rountree III will step in as the Tigers’ lead back this fall. He already led the team in rushing in 2018, going for 1,216 yards and 11 touchdowns.
He won’t be the only guy, though, as Tyler Badie seems poised to take on a bigger role after impressing as a freshman last season. Badie is a better receiver out of the backfield, and should get more opportunities to show those skills in 2019.
The biggest issue for the running game is that the Tigers have to replace two longtime starting offensive linemen in Paul Adams and Kevin Pendleton. If that unit succeeds early in the year, Mizzou’s rushing attack should be just fine.
Passing game (including WRs and TEs): B+
The Tigers have perhaps the best tight end in the SEC in Albert Okwuegbunam, and if he’s healthy, he’ll quickly become one of Bryant’s favorite targets. Yes, the offense loses the dynamic and speedy Emanuel Hall on the outside, but there’s plenty of depth behind him.
Johnathon Johnson is the top returning receiver, and rising sophomores Jalen Knox and Kam Scott will be counted on to make big strides this fall. The Tigers also added Arkansas grad transfer WR Jonathan Nance, and he had 3 catches for 48 yards in the spring game.
Dominic Gicinto and Barrett Banister should also contribute in 2019, so this unit has talent and depth.
Offensive line: B-
As mentioned, this will depend heavily on how well the replacements for Pendleton and Adams play. Still, there’s some experience returning, with Yasir Durant, Tre’Vour Wallace-Simms and Trystan Colon-Castillo returning as starters.
The linemen will be blocking for a talented quarterback and a loaded backfield, though, so that should make their jobs easier this fall.
Run defense: C
The Tigers have a tough task in the middle of their defense, having to replace star DL Terry Beckner Jr. and LB Terez Hall. Those guys were huge the past few years.
However, Beckner’s replacement potentially could have a breakout 2019 season. Former Texas DL Jordan Elliott showed flashes of brilliance last year. If he takes a step forward, the Tigers will continue to be tough to move around on the defensive line.
The linebacking corps could use some more depth, though, so that’s an issue as of now.
Pass defense: D
The Tigers finished dead last in the SEC in passing yards allowed per game in 2018, giving up 262 yards per contest. They return three corners from that unit — DeMarkus Acy, Adam Sparks and Christian Holmes — along with S Ronnell Perkins.
Gone is S Cam Hilton, who made some big plays late in the season. Top 2019 signee Jalani Williams is a safety, but he missed the spring session following foot surgery. If he and fellow 2019 signee Ishmael Burdine can’t step in and contribute right away, it could be another long year for the Mizzou pass defense.
Special teams: C+
K Tucker McCann missed his only field goal during the spring game. Considering it was only from 27 yards, that’s a concerning sign. Based on his performance last year, though, he should ultimately be fine.
As the team’s starting punter, too, McCann looked solid. He boomed a 54-yard punt on his first attempt. Is punting and kicking too much for him? He’ll need to figure that out this summer. If it is, he needs to focus on kicking and kicking only.
Elsewhere, it’s a bit too early to get a good read on the kickoff and punt-return units.
As mentioned, one of the biggest areas the Tigers need to improve is in the secondary. With many of the same players returning, they need to show they can lock down some of the more potent SEC offenses.
The good news is that Alabama isn’t on the schedule and Vanderbilt will be breaking in a new quarterback, but Georgia, Florida and Tennessee should all have improved passing games this fall. Ole Miss is starting over at QB and WR, but the Rebels have the pieces to again be a threat through the air, too.
Another area of concern is in the return game. The Tigers had Rountree doing some kickoff returns last season while Richaud Floyd was hurt, but Rountree is too valuable in the backfield this year to be returning kicks. There are some intriguing options, from Floyd to Scott to a guy like Acy, potentially (though he might be too valuable in the secondary). The Tigers didn’t do any returns during the spring game, though, so it’s too early to tell what the plan is for those units.