Missouri’s season is in Drew Lock’s hands for the next few months.
As important as spring practice was and fall camp will be, it’s the time and energy Lock puts into mastering the Tigers’ offense during the summer months — skills that must honed without the benefit of coaching from Mizzou’s staff — that will dictate how big of a jump he makes in 2017.
“Guys have to understand that they have to put in time on their own if they want to get themselves to be a high-performing player in the Southeastern Conference,” Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said. “If you’re going to play quarterback in our league, you’ve got to put in the extra time, not just technique but film study and understanding every aspect of the game.”
The Bulldogs are counting on junior Nick Fitzgerald, who took over as the starting quarterback one game into last season, to use the summer to refine his game.
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“He has to take a huge step forward before we get into training camp, and he’s going to do that on his own,” Mullen said. “We can’t be out there working with him on the field, so it’s the commitment that guys are going to put in on their own, so they continue to improve even when the coaches can’t work with them.”
Lock, a junior Lee’s Summit graduate and former Simone Award winner, must demonstrate the same commitment to drill work, timing with receivers, perfecting a release point and improving throwing angles if Mizzou is going to return to a bowl game and reach other goals.
He’s 6-14 as the Tigers’ starter during the last two seasons, a record that’s not entirely his fault.
Lock wasn’t ready for the starting role in 2015, a raw and inexperienced prospect thrown into the fire too early because of Maty Mauk’s suspensions and thrust into a leadership role as a true freshman during arguably the most tumultuous season in program history.
Under new offensive coordinator Josh Heupel’s tutelage in 2016, Lock blossomed despite the challenges of adjusting to a new system and the reality that he’s still learning the position in many ways.
“We’re excited about Drew,” second-year Missouri coach Barry Odom said. “He made so much positive progress this spring. If you look at the jump he made from his freshman to sophomore year, in a positive way, I feel like he made that much of a jump from the end of the season last year until the end of our spring practice sessions.”
Odom particularly lauded Lock’s improved ability to read defenses and work through progressions.
“I’ve noticed more leadership qualities from him and I’ve noticed him taking command of the offense, understanding what we’re asking him to do and then being able to see what the defense is giving him and not trying to go for the home-run ball every time,” Odom said. “He’s taking the smart throw. Those are things I noticed over the spring.”
Two years ago, Lock completed 49 percent of his passes with a 5.1-yard average per attempt, four touchdowns against eight interceptions in 12 games, including eight starts.
Those numbers improved dramatically as Lock completed 54.6 percent of his passes, averaged 7.8 yards per attempt (36th in the Football Bowl Subdivision), and threw 23 touchdowns (35th in FBS) against 10 interceptions as the full-time starter last season.
Still, Lock only led Mizzou — whose defense was among the worst in the country last season, allowing 479.7 yards per game — to a 4-8 record with no bowl game for a second straight season.
What will Lock’s third season as a starter bring?
“We expect Drew to play at a high level,” Odom said. “He had a great spring and he’ll have an unbelievable summer. I’m anxious for what he’s going to do this fall.”