It wasn’t hard to zero in on a theme for the inaugural Mizzou mailbag of the season.
Lots of people wanted to Ask Tod about Missouri true freshman quarterback Drew Lock.
Obviously, it made big news when Tigers coach Gary Pinkel tabbed Lock as Maty Mauk’s backup with the release of the season’s first depth chart.
But Pinkel also went to great lengths to dispel the notion there was a quarterback controversy in Missouri’s camp.
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The Tigers’ staff still has unflinching faith in Mauk and for good reason given his 14-4 record as a starter the last two seasons.
That said, Lock should receive the same treatment Chase Daniel and Blaine Gabbert did, receiving pre-planned reps to give him game experience even in a backup role.
Now, onto your questions and the topic du jour:
Guys, I don’t get the sense that the leash for Mauk is particularly short. He’s a proven winner. He’s got a .778 win percentage as a starter, which — last time I checked — was really good. No, Mauk isn’t perfect. He needs to bump up his completion percentage and improve his pocket presence, utilizing better footwork and displaying more trust in his receivers and better accuracy with short/intermediate timing routes.
These things are true, but it’s also true that Mauk is one of the most accomplished and experienced quarterbacks in the SEC. He’s played in two SEC Championship Games and helped Missouri win the Cotton Bowl and Citrus Bowl the last two seasons. He had a dinged throwing shoulder, which was worse than many people realized last season.
Mauk is QB1 for the Tigers, but I do think Pinkel would be quicker to put the team in Lock’s hands if there’s another injury. A season ago, Mauk was getting numbing injections before each game and at halftime. Given the accuracy Lock displayed in camp and his grasp of the offense already, I suspect Missouri would be quicker to let Mauk heal this season.
Wins and losses also will be a factor. If Mauk struggles in conference play like he did last season and the Tigers take some lumps and fall from the SEC East division race, Lock could see more time if the coaches believe he represents the best chance for victory. Barring that, look for Lock to be brought along like Missouri has brought along other young quarterbacks during Pinkel’s tenure.
Tim, if the staff believes Lock is the second-best option at quarterback, there’s no reason to redshirt him. You can’t preach that the best players will play and then sit arguably the most-gifted guy on your roster at the most important position in the game to preserve a season of eligibility.
Co-third-string quarterbacks Eddie Printz and Marvin Zanders played well, but neither has anything approaching the ceiling Lock does. The Lee’s Summit graduate was far and away the most-accurate passer during fall-camp scrimmages, his deep ball is a thing of beauty to watch. He took a lot of two-hand-touch sacks, but that’s not unusual for a young quarterback.
Missouri needed four starts from its backup in 2012 and 2013. If Lock is the best option should that scenario present itself again, it only makes sense to get him in game action sooner rather than later, so he’s better prepared for that eventuality.
Darren, sophomore left guard Alec Abeln is a good place to start. He was something of an afterthought when camp began and he was serving as senior center Evan Boehm’s backup. Boehm, after all, has started all 40 games in his Missouri career and can break the Tigers’ all-time record for consecutive starts Nov. 21 against Tennessee at Memorial stadium if he stays healthy. Abeln made the most of an opportunity to work at another position and instead will start alongside Boehm on Saturday against Southeast Missouri.
Another name I’d throw out there is junior defensive tackle Rickey Hatley. Defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski said he and sophomore defensive end Charles Harris had far and away the best camp of any Missouri defensive lineman. Defensive ends Marcell Frazier, a redshirt sophomore from College of the Siskiyous in California, and freshman Nate Howard also had strong camps.
Zachary, maybe, maybe not. But it doesn’t matter. Freshman Terry Beckner Jr. is going to play, and he’s going to play a lot. Defensive line is probably the position where depth is the most paramount and the label of starter matters the least. Guys cycle through up front on defense more than any other position.
It also happens some at running back, wide receiver and tight end, but there’s no doubt that Beckner is going to see a ton of reps. Even if starting defensive tackle Josh Augusta’s fitness has improved enough for him to play more than three consecutive snaps, Beckner will get into the action. The better he plays, the more snaps he’ll receive.
Tim, that’s hard to answer, because I don’t know who you consider a widely known player. Let’s assume anyone who got preseason All-SEC mentions is out along with much-hyped recruits, like Lock and Beckner.
There are a ton of receivers with the potential to emerge as dynamic playmakers led by sophomores Nate Brown and J’Mon Moore, but freshmen Emanuel Hall, Keyon Dilosa and DeSean Blair could be in that mix, too.
The guy that I believe could push rise up from anonymity and push for SEC defensive player of the year honors is sophomore defensive end Charles Harris. He’s a swolled-up monster, itching to be great, groomed by the best D-line in the country and mentored by a succession of studs at the position.
Cornerbacks Kenya Dennis and Aarion Penton seem to be flying under the radar for some reason and sophomore safety Anthony Sherrils has as much athletic talent as anyone on Missouri’s roster. I also don’t think senior left tackle Connor McGovern gets nearly enough love outside of Columbia, but I suspect he’ll get his due in time.
Brian, sure why not? I mean, I didn’t predict either of the previous two and still believe Georgia is the best team on the SEC East on paper. That opinion didn’t matter in 2013 or 2014. Why would it in 2015?
Tyler, I like a lot of the guys Missouri brought in. Blue Springs South’s Kevin Puryear is a gamer and a the kind of guy every program needs. Freshmen shooting guards Cullen VanLeer and K.J. Walton should boosts the Tigers’ perimeter shooting, while former John A. Logan teammates Martavian Payne and Russell Woods shore up roster voids and should bring valuable experience and needed toughness.
The other new addition, freshman point guard Terrence Phillips, comes from a terrific prep program, oozes leadership and has a strong Twitter game. Having only met the kid once, he’s already an easy guy to root for. Now, does that mean these guys will come together and make a good team? I have no earthly clue.
The modest goals I’d set this season are a .500 record overall and avoiding the first day of the SEC men’s basketball tournament. That means ninth or better in the conference. It ain’t exactly setting the world ablaze, but that would represent clear improvement and evidence that a solid foundation is being laid. It was always going to take time, and I think coach Kim Anderson has a better handle on the things he needs to focus on to restore the Tigers’ roar. I’ll tell you this — nobody cares more about returning MU to hardwood glory than Anderson does.
Alex, what do mean by reps? Play in the game? Probably not if the starting line does its job or there’s an injury or the game’s a blowout. Get work in practice? Of course. I suspect we’ll see plenty of Taylor Chappell these first few weeks, because that competition isn’t completely settled. Chappell will get a chance to reclaim the job by outperforming Abeln during live-action reps.
As long as Abeln continues to impress, it’s his job now. He’d have to lose it. Chappell had plenty of time to lock down a starting spot and didn’t do it. As for Brad McNulty, my strong suspicion is that Boehm would have to be hospitalized not to play pretty much every down this season. Sure, McNulty will get in there against Southeast Missouri, but he won’t see much action during conference play. Heck, even if Boehm is hospitalized, a much more likely scenario is that Abeln moves back to center and Chappell (or Malik Cuellar or Clay Rhodes) takes over at guard.
*I understand why “Rock ‘N’ Roll Part 2” had to go, but there’s got to be better replacements. Maybe the Chiefs could incorporate “Friends in Low Places” to appease Sam Mellinger and Dave Skretta, who were broken up when the Royals dumped Garth Brooks’ classic.
Chuck, because they’ve got you as a fan, hoss. Have a wonderful day!