CFB Insider: NFL praise for Joe Burrow, Derek Dooley, Kelly Bryant and more
Each week, Matt Hayes uses his sources around the country to bring you insider knowledge about what’s going on in and around the SEC ahead of this week’s games.
This is what he’s hearing from coaches and NFL scouts in Week 3 …
Everyone is taking notice of Burrow, LSU
Joe Burrow’s performance last week against Texas has had ramifications all over the college football world, not just the SEC.
One Power 5, non-SEC coach I spoke to this week said watching Burrow last year was “like watching one of Mike Leach’s quarterbacks run the Navy offense.” There was, however, one big difference with Burrow and the LSU quarterbacks of the past who were swallowed by a bad scheme and conservative play calling: “You could see he could throw the ball, and in the right system, could have success.”
That’s what makes LSU coach Ed Orgeron’s hire of former New Orleans Saints offensive assistant Joe Brady as the Tigers’ pass game coordinator such a transcendent move. For all those who mocked the Orgeron hire at LSU – I loved it, and said that despite what happened at Ole Miss in his first time as a head coach in the SEC, Orgeron would hire quality assistants around him to make it work – he has made nearly every right move as head coach.
The move to hire Brady was the biggest of all, freeing up Burrow to play in a system more suited to his ability, and more important, a difficult system to defend.
“I’m not shocked by how well (Burrow) has played,” one SEC coach told me. “But I’m scared as hell about it, I’ll tell you that. They’ve got that missing piece now. They just got a lot tougher to beat – for everyone.”
The evolution of Kelly Bryant
One undersold story after the first 2 weeks of the season: the play of Missouri quarterback Kelly Bryant.
“I’m shocked,” one NFL scout told me this week, “how different he looks.”
Bryant wasn’t exactly an efficient or prolific thrower at Clemson – one of the reasons he lost the starting job to Trevor Lawrence – and was more of a game manager. At Missouri, the offense revolves around him, and his ability to drive the ball downfield with intermediate and deep throws.
Missouri coach Barry Odom told me this spring that Bryant’s deep ball was undervalued, and that it would be a “weapon” in the Tigers’ offense. In 2 games – and even in the loss at Wyoming – Bryant has proven that time and again.
Bryant played well in the loss at Wyoming and then looked considerably sharper in a rout of West Virginia last week. That’s the Bryant that Odom and offensive coordinator Derek Dooley expect to see every week – the Bryant that makes Missouri a dangerous team in the SEC East.
The Tigers likely won’t beat Georgia – who in the SEC East, or even the SEC overall, will? – but likely will be the favorite in every other East Division game. In fact, don’t be surprised if Missouri is 7-1 when the Tigers roll into Athens on Nov. 9 to play Georgia.
That’s the first of back-to-back games against Georgia and Florida. That stretch will be critical in Missouri winning double-digit games for the first time since 2014. Those two games will also be big in scouting evaluation.
“(Missouri) isn’t playing anyone that can press him for the first 2 months,” an NFL scout told me. “He’s going to put up some impressive numbers, and believe me, he looks like a different guy right now. But let’s see what he can do when those 2 big games are in front of him. It’s going to be exciting to watch how he responds.”
The rehabilitation of Derek Dooley
Speaking of Missouri, industry sources tell me Derek Dooley is quickly rehabbing his coaching career – and that he’ll once again be a head coach at a Power 5 school.
Considering how poorly it ended for Dooley at Tennessee, that’s a strong statement.
Dooley left college football and spent 5 years in the NFL as a position coach with the Dallas Cowboys. He had never been an offensive coordinator at the college or professional level, and in 2 seasons at Mizzou, he has had a significant impact on the development of Drew Lock and Kelly Bryant.
“That (Tennessee) job, as we now see, isn’t what everyone thinks it is,” one industry source told me. “A lot of infighting, a lot of counterproductive nonsense. I know this: Nick (Saban) loves Dooley; talks very highly of him. What he has done with the Missouri offense is impressive.”
Dooley followed Lane Kiffin’s 1-year stint at Tennessee and was the school’s 3rd coach in 3 seasons. Among the lowlights: Tennessee’s first back-to-back losing seasons since 1911, and the first loss to Kentucky in 27 years.
Dooley has the worst record in Tennessee history among coaches who have coached more than 2 seasons (if Jeremy Pruitt gets to Year 3, that record will be broken).
But that final season in 2012 is a long way away, and another industry source said, “It’s about what you’ve done now. His work at Missouri speaks for itself, and NFL folks speak highly of him as well.”
Josh Jackson and Mike Locksley: a perfect pair?
Look for Maryland to go to 3-0 this weekend with a win over Temple, setting up a huge game for first-year coach Mike Locksley against Penn State.
Maryland has always seen Penn State as a rival, if for no other reason than Penn State recruits well in Maryland’s critical recruiting footprint: Maryland, Washington D.C., Virginia.
Maryland will have 2 weeks to prepare for that Sept. 27 home game. It will be a statement game for Locksley (who struggled badly in his first head coaching job but rehabbed his career at Alabama) and QB Josh Jackson, who has quickly developed under Locksley and offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery.
Jackson left Virginia Tech after last season and joined Maryland as a graduate transfer. His play early this season has scouts taking a second look. Jackson had an impressive freshman season at VT (20 TDs, 7 INTs) but missed nearly all of last season with a broken fibula.
“I’m excited to see where it goes with Maryland,” one NFL scout told me. “(Jackson) has good size, a strong arm; he fits the mold. Does he get the concepts of the passing game? Is he more than a 1- or 2-progression and then run guy? It looks good early on, but that Penn State game will give us a good indication where this is.”