As Kelly Bryant danced around the pocket during Saturday’s Black and Gold game, perfectly executing his first eight throws and extending a handful more plays with his legs, the former Clemson quarterback looked like a seasoned veteran in Missouri’s offense, not a newcomer.
One of the main people he has to thank is someone who voluntarily retired after Bryant committed to play for Mizzou in December.
Jack Lowary, one of MU’s backup quarterbacks during the past few seasons, has spent this spring as a student assistant on Barry Odom’s football coaching staff. None have benefited more from Lowary’s transition than Bryant.
When Missouri landed the coveted graduate transfer quarterback during bowl practices, the Tigers were already carrying five quarterbacks with Drew Lock being the lone senior. Then the program landed TCU transfer Shawn Robinson and signed high school prospect Connor Bazelak, increasing MU’s quarterback count for next season to seven, barring any attrition.
After landing the trio, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Derek Dooley took on another recruiting mission — a much less stressful one. He asked Lowary to become a student assistant. Lowary, who has ambitions in coaching, gladly accepted while fellow backup quarterback Micah Wilson switched to wide receiver.
Dooley knows a coach when he sees one. His father, Vince, was a legendary coach at Georgia who won the national championship in 1980, and his uncle Bill coached at North Carolina, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest. As a graduate assistant at Georgia in 1996, Derek Dooley helped coach the secondary, which included current Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart, then a standout safety. Dooley said it took two meetings with Lowary to identify the same coaching traits he saw in Smart.
“He was kind of an assistant coach last year,” Dooley told The Star. “He had his trial with Drew. He really helped Drew a lot. He was sort of a student-coach last year, now he’ll be a graduate coach and one day he’s going to be a full-time great coach. He understands ball, he asks the right questions. I think Drew looked up to him. Drew leaned on him.”
Lock did more than just lean on Lowary. The two roomed together, along with Wilson, and spent hours a day watching film and breaking down plays. It was Lowary who discovered that Lock’s body was all over the place when he dropped back in the pocket, something he got away with in former offensive coordinator Josh Heupel’s hybrid air raid/spread offense, which required MU to get rid of the ball quickly. The two spent weeks correcting Lock’s hips and feet to adjust to certain reads in Dooley’s pro-style offense.
“Drew made strides when we worked on how his feet mirrored up to a progression and how his body can be aligned,” Lowary said. “He’s such a natural thrower, letting him figure out his style for the play. We made it as clean and something he can replicate it play-in and play-out.”
When Bryant arrived on campus, it didn’t take long for him to hear about Lowary’s promising potential as a quarterbacks coach. Bryant has NFL aspirations and wants to hear his name called in next April’s NFL Draft, just like Lock’s will be in a few weeks.
During his first meeting with Bryant, Lowary went through the different fundamentals and reads he and Lock worked on. He also sold himself on the private meetings that helped make Lock a first round talent. Consider it Lowary’s first recruiting pitch as a coach.
“Jack was telling me everything he did with Drew, helping him with different concepts,” Bryant said. “So I thought: Why wouldn’t I do the same thing?”
In 2018, Lowary relayed play-call signals from Dooley to Lock on the field. With no playing time on the horizon, Lowary treated the process as if he were under center, living and dying with the result of each play.
At the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, Lock was asked if he had spoken to Bryant or passed on any advice as Missouri’s next starting quarterback. Lock said no, because he knew Bryant would be in good hands when he heard he was working with Lowary.
Like Lock, Bryant and Lowary have met during the week to go over each play in the playbook and the respective call that goes with it. Lowary will name a play and expect Bryant to show the corresponding hand signals.
Bryant has proven to be a quick study, but Lowary has to remind himself that certain things don’t apply to Bryant that maybe did with Lock. While NFL teams are currently salivating over Lock’s deep ball, Bryant’s dual-threat ability changes certain dynamics of the playbook. That showed Saturday, as Bryant threw for 150 yards, albeit against the second- and third-string defenses. With the pocket collapsing on his first series, Bryant was able to escape pressure and fire a 36-yard completion to Dominic Gicinto, a Raytown graduate, to set up first-and-goal.
Now that he’s working as a coach under Dooley, Lowary’s influence has extended beyond the quarterback room and to the entire offense. Wilson has faced a difficult transition to wideout and said having Lowary in his meetings has helped him adjust to certain concepts quicker than he was anticipating.
“He’s got that coaching factor,” Wilson said. “He’s naturally a coach. Even since he was playing. He’s on top of everything, the perfect coaching point to give somebody.”
Lowary plans to be a graduate assistant in the fall when a spot opens up, and has no regrets about retiring a year before his eligibility expired.
On Faurot Field during a recent spring practice, Lowary said he enjoys the coaching life and already had to adjust to the idea of not playing as a backup.
As Bryant trotted past him, Lowary cut his answer short. The two had a film session to get to.