Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk spent last spring working on his pocket presence.
The plan was for Mauk, who started all 14 games as a sophomore for the Tigers last fall, to tamp down his natural instinct to freelance in favor of more throws in the flow of the offense from the pocket.
It didn’t happen, but that doesn’t mean it won’t.
“It’s still a focus,” Mauk said. “Obviously I didn’t do it that much (last season). It’s something I’ve got to do, and Tuesday I stepped up more than I ever have. We’ve just got to keep repping that and, with more reps, muscle memory will kick in, and I’ll just step up there and throw the ball.”
Missouri associate head coach/quarterbacks Andy Hill confirmed that Mauk has made strides as a pocket passer already this spring.
“There’s a lot of inconsistency that can be improved,” Hill said. “I think it has been. He had probably his best practice on Tuesday. It was OK today, but he showed real good poise. He’s showing what he should be showing for a guy who started last year.”
Offensive line issues contributed to Mauk’s happy feet last season. He tended to bail from the pocket early and often in games where he faced heavy initial pressure.
If Mauk is going to take a step into the ranks of the college game’s elite quarterbacks, that tendency must change.
Mauk completed only 53.4 percent of his passes last season, a number Hill would like to see bump up at least eight to 10 points.
That completion percentage actually was up from 51.1 percent from his redshirt freshman season, when he started four games in place of an injured James Franklin, but his yards per attempt dropped dramatically — from 8.05 yards to 6.40.
Mauk’s interception percent doubled from 1.5 percent to 3.1 percent of his attempts, while his touchdown percentage dipped from 8.3 percent to 6.0 percent.
Part of that can be explained by injury. Mauk played the last half of the season with a dinged-up throwing shoulder.
The acromioclavicular joint wasn’t completely separated, Mauk said, but it was more severe than a sprain and affected his performance.
“It was the most painful one you can have, but it didn’t need any surgery or anything,” Mauk said. “You just have to kind of rest it. I got to rest it there after the bowl game.”
The return to health has made a big difference, but that’s not the only change for Mauk this spring. He also committed to a healthier diet and has dropped from 20 to 11 percent body fat.
“My body’s never felt this good, and now I can really go out there and get better without having to worry about getting treatment or anything like that,” Mauk said. “I’m lighter on my feet. I can get out and make more plays. Naturally, my hips — I was a little stiff flexibility-wise. Now I feel good … and can make some plays with my feet — not just run, get down or get out of bounds, but maybe make somebody miss.”
Of course, coaches would prefer that he limit the shots he takes and are much more encouraged by his progress between the tackles.
The Chiefs might deserve a hat tip if Mauk makes great strides in that area.
“We met with (Chiefs quarterbacks coach Matt Nagy and offensive coordinator Doug Pederson) here a couple weeks ago, and for about three hours we just talked about drills they do,” Hill said. “It was pretty cool.”
Hill has put some ball-placement drills into use over the last month, emphasizing throws to the opposite shoulder from the defender, in an effort to improve Mauk’s accuracy and ultimately his completion percentage.
“It’s ongoing, but the stuff we’re working on in individual drills I can see him doing in seven-on-seven and team drills, which is encouraging,” Hill said. “He is far from complacent. He is ready to improve. He has a hunger to improve, and that’s very important for a guy who is going to improve. You’ve got to have that inner drive.”