Mizzou OC Josh Heupel explains Drew Lock's evolution
It’s a Missouri fan’s worst nightmare for 2017 — junior quarterback Drew Lock decked out in a red practice pullover.
Quarterbacks usually wear green, a signal to be gentle during seven-on-seven or team drills.
Red is reserved for injured players.
Lock, like most quarterbacks for most football teams, probably is Mizzou’s most indispensable player, but there’s no reason for alarm.
He banged his left hand, the non-throwing hand, on a facemask while practicing a handoff, so he was put in a red jersey to ensure an abundance of caution with the season opener fewer than 10 days away.
“He’s fine,” Tigers offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. “Green means go sometimes, so we’re putting red on him. Red means stop.”
The Mizzou coaching staff has raved about Lock’s progress since leading the SEC in passing last season.
He’s grown in his mastery of the offense, understanding of defenses and mechanics inside and outside the pocket, which potentially sets the stage for a big season.
The fact that Heupel could joke about Lock’s nick is encouraging, but it also begs the question as to what the Tigers would do if Lock goes down.
Junior Jack Lowary has worked throughout the offseason as Lock’s backup, but he’s being pushed by redshirt freshman Micah Wilson and true freshman Taylor Powell.
“Those other guys don’t have a ton of experience and experience does matter at that position,” Heupel said. “But those guys are ready to go out and play at a high level, too. They’ve put in a lot of time and energy and performed really well at times. They’ll be ready to go, too.”
So, who will back up Lock on Sept. 2 against Missouri State?
“We haven’t decided on that,” Heupel said. “We’re still competing and, when we get into game week, we’ll probably name a guy.”
More freshmen in mix
Head coach Barry Odom rattled off six freshmen — safety Joshuah Bledsoe, linebackers Jamal Brooks and Aubrey Miller, running back Larry Rountree III, cornerback Adam Sparks and safety Jordan Ulmer — who are expected to contribute this season.
Defensive coordinator DeMontie Cross added a few names to the list on Thursday after practice, saying Mizzou would “have to play a lot of guys up front.”
That probably means freshmen defensive ends Akial Byers, when healthy again, and Chris Turner will be in the defensive line rotation.
Cross added that defensive tackle Kobie Whiteside, who is learning Hebrew in his spare time, has “really done a good job up front” on the interior.
“He’ll have an opportunity to play quite a bit,” Cross said.
Depth yields possible rotations
Missouri also plans to rotate at other levels of the defense.
Middle linebackers Eric Beisel and Cale Garrett are set to split time and Cross said Joey Burkett is pushing Terez Hall at the outside linebacker spot.
Kansas State transfer Kaleb Prewett continues to soak up the majority of snaps at the other outside linebacker/safety spot, but he’ll rotate with Brandon Lee.
“I’ve always believed you’re only as good as your depth,” Cross said. “If those guys earn the right to be on the field, we’re going to play them.”
Safety is another spot rife with competition.
Cross indicated that senior Anthony Sherrils, a Hogan Prep graduate from Kansas City, has played best in training camp, but three others returners — Thomas Wilson, Ronnell Perkins and Cam Hilton — bring starting experience.
Freshman Jordan Ulmer has performed well enough to see the field, too.
“Somebody’s going to have to fight to get on the field,” Cross said. “(Ulmer’s) probably going to play quite a bit.”
The cornerback rotation will include DeMarkus Acy, Logan Cheadle, Finis Stribling IV and Adam Sparks after Christian Holmes’ potentially season-ending injury.
Freshman defensive end Akial Byers, a former Alabama commit and late addition to Missouri’s 2017 recruiting class, will be sidelined three weeks with a knee sprain.
Byers has drawn rave reviews in training camp and figures to have a prominent role in the Tigers’ defensive line rotation when healthy.
Sophomore cornerback Christian Holmes (dislocated shoulder) and freshman tight end Logan Christopherson (left ankle) remain out indefinitely.
Sophomore wide receiver Richaud Floyd (concussion) was limited as he works his way back and junior offensive lineman Adam Roland (hip strain) also continued to miss practice.
There was some good news as senior defensive end Marcell Frazier (strained quadriceps) returned to practice unhindered.
Running backs Ish Witter (hamstring), a senior, Nate Strong (knee), a junior, and Dawson Downing, a freshman walk-on, also returned to practice.