Looking to build off of last season's strong finish, the Missouri Tigers are set to return to the field with the start of spring practice. Their 15-practice spring schedule runs until April 14, concluding with the annual Black & Gold Game.
The Tigers’ 2017 season was a roller coaster in every sense of the word. A 72-43 win over FCS opponent Missouri State preceded a five-game losing streak that included all four of Mizzou’s SEC losses. The Tigers then closed with six straight wins — scoring an average of 51.3 points per game in that stretch that vaulted them to third in the SEC East. Falling to the Texas Longhorns in the Texas Bowl surely dampened the mood, but head coach Barry Odom still has a lot to like as he enters his third season in Columbia.
5 Storylines to Watch During Missouri’s Spring Practice
1. Lock's new No. 1
Senior quarterback Drew Lock returns after NFL draft grades came back lower than expected, and he comes off a 2017 season when he led the FBS with 44 touchdown passes. With wide receiver J’Mon Moore departing for the pros, Lock will need to find a new No. 1 target as he looks to replicate — if not exceed — his performance from a season ago. Redshirt junior Johnathon Johnson (41 receptions, 724 yards) and senior Emanuel Hall (33, 817) are Lock’s top returning targets. Look for Hall to take over as the primary option outside while Johnson continues his work in the slot.
2. A crowded backfield
Last season, Ish Witter broke the 1,000-yard mark for the first time to finish with more than 2,500 rushing yards for his career. While Witter has finished his eligibility, new offensive coordinator Derek Dooley isn't hurting for options here. Taking the reins will be an effective one-two punch in the form of Damarea Crockett and Larry Rountree III. A freshman last season, Rountree matched Witter in both yards per carry (5.6) and rushing touchdowns (six). Crockett was limited to seven games due to injury but still managed to run for 481 yards after leading the team in rushing in 2016. The future is bright with Crockett and Rountree in the backfield.
3. Beckner is back
Terry Beckner Jr. (above, right) has established himself as one of the top players on this roster entering 2018. Like Lock, Beckner also elected to return to school for his senior season, and his presence ensured that the defensive line will be one of the most veteran units in the SEC. His 11 tackles for a loss were third on the team while his seven sacks were tied for the most. He will be joined up front by Texas transfer Jordan Elliott, senior Nate Anderson and junior Markell Utsey, as well as former junior college transfers Rashad Brandon and Walter Palmore. If those four can step up this season and take some of the pressure off Beckner, the defensive line could be one of Odom’s strongest position groups.
4. Blindside's continual progression
In order to ensure Lock’s senior season goes as well as his junior campaign, the offensive line will also need to perform at a high level. Though Tyler Howell (10 games, three starts) and Adam Ploudre (nine games, one start) both completed their eligibility last season, two key starters — Yasir Durant and Kevin Pendleton — return to protect Lock’s blindside. Both played in all 13 games a season ago, with Pendleton starting 12 and Durant 10. They’ll need to continue growing to keep Lock upright and give him a chance to make something happen from the pocket.
5. Next in line
Because Lock has played in all three seasons thus far, this will be his final one as Missouri’s starter. Of the four other quarterbacks on the roster, only redshirt sophomore Micah Wilson (played in five games in 2017) and redshirt junior Jack Lowary (two games) have seen the field for the Tigers. In order not to get stuck once Lock concludes his eligibility, look for Wilson and/or Lowary to get ample game experience behind Lock.
— Written by Juan Jose Rodriguez, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and currently a junior at the University of Notre Dame. Rodriguez was an intern for Athlon during summer 2017 and works for a variety of media outlets on campus, including as the Associate Editor of Scholastic Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @JuanJoseRG02.