Missouri’s offense generated plenty of records last season, including topping 500 yards of total offense per game for the first time.
Still, there was too much inconsistency to dub the Tigers’ attack truly elite.
The wide receivers are taking that personally.
“It was our first time with it, so we weren’t exactly satisfied,” sophomore wide receiver Dimetrios Mason said. “We still had to put everything together, but this year it’s going to be more on target. We’ll play a lot neater and cleaner.”
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The passing game generated plenty of production, finishing second in conference behind Mississippi with an average of 295.4 yards per game in 2016.
During conference play, Missouri’s numbers dipped to 259.4, which still ranked third in the SEC and was an encouraging sign after the previous season’s profound and crippling struggles on offense.
But for Mizzou to emerge as a truly elite attack the wide receivers have to do a better job catching the ball and creating big plays — even in games at LSU or Florida, not just against Delaware State and Middle Tennessee.
Familiarity with the offense — the players now have had a full year adjusting to Josh Heupel’s scheme — should help the Tigers start faster and sustain the production throughout the season.
It already was evident during spring practice.
“The comfort level was much better — just the communication level and knowing your assignments,” senior wide receiver J’Mon Moore said. “The whole offensive scheme and the whole flow of it was way better.”
Now, it’s up to each guy to focus on the fundamentals and continue improving throughout the summer before the 2017 season opener Sept. 2 against Missouri State.
“I’m just making sure I go over all our plays before the game and focus on everything we learned during the week to execute in the game,” Mason said.
Mason plans to spend plenty of evenings working with junior quarterback Drew Lock this summer to develop more chemistry.
“We’re not ready yet, but we’ll get there by the time it’s football season,” Mason said.
After all, there’s only one goal that matters for the Tigers after back-to-back losing seasons.
“I just want to win. Period,” Moore said. “I just want to go out there and do whatever it is I need to do, so I can go out my last year with a winning record and put myself in the best position to make plays to help this team win.”
Mizzou spring position breakdown
OUTSIDE WIDE RECEIVERS (7)
Project depth (string): (1) J’Mon Moore, senior; and Dimetrios Mason, sophomore; (2) Nate Brown, junior; and Emanuel Hall, junior; (3) Justin Smith, sophomore; and Dominic Collins, senior
Potential impact additions: Da’Ron Davis, freshman
Analysis: It’s safe to say Moore and Mason are the top options outside unless Davis comes in and blows Mizzou’s coaches away. That seems unlikely given that he was injured for a chunk of last season at Lee’s Summit North and spent a lot of time before that at running back during his Hogan Prep days.
It may take Davis some time to adjust to the intricacies of Tigers offensive coordinator Josh Heupel’s offense — or maybe Davis comes in and sets the practice ablaze with his speed and elusiveness. That would be a major bonus, but we’re going to assume Moore and Mason are the starters against Missouri State.
Moore was an All-SEC performer last season and certainly put himself on the radar of NFL teams with his 62 catches for 1,012 yards and eight touchdowns. Yes, Moore dropped too many passes. Yes, some fans refuse to forgive him for his role in the 2015 boycott. But it’s pretty clear to objective observers that he’s the most-talented receiver the Tigers have.
Unless it’s Mason, who finished an impressive true freshman season with 47 receptions for 587 yards and three touchdowns. Lightly recruited out of Grayson High in Loganville, Ga., the Rivals two-star prospect proved to be a hidden gem for Mizzou and should take his game to another level with improved consistency as a sophomore.
Brown continues to be plagued by injury trouble, but he and Hall provide starter-level backups — a luxury for the Tigers. Smith still profiles as a potent red-zone weapon, and Collins seemed much more settled during the spring game than he managed to get last fall.
Overall grade: B. There are teams with more talented individual receivers, but Missouri’s depth on the outside is impressive. If Brown, who missed last season with an ankle injury and was shut down during spring practice with a shoulder injury, can get healthy and emerge as an impact performer then Drew Lock’s going to be the happiest gunslinger in the SEC.
SLOT RECEIVERS (4)
Project depth (string): (1) Johnathon Johnson, sophomore; (2) Ray Wingo, junior; (3) Richaud Floyd, sophomore
Potential impact additions: O’Shae Clark, freshman
Analysis: Johnson flashed big-play ability, but he lacked consistency last season, finishing with 24 catches for 435 yards — both third on the team — with a pair of touchdowns. He’ll be counted on to become a force for Missouri’s offense to take another step forward.
Wingo looked like he was poised to bust out with a big performance against Eastern Michigan — three catches for 125 yards, including a touchdown — but he only totaled two receptions and 18 yards in the other seven games he played. He’s another guy who needs to become a consistent threat.
The seldom-used Floyd, who finished with four catches — one each against LSU, Florida, South Carolina and Vanderbilt — for 94 yards last season, might push his way onto the field in 2017. He’s a former high school quarterback, so presumably he understands offenses at a higher level than most wide receivers. But he’s also shown flashes for a couple years and might be ready to contribute. He could give Wingo a battle.
Clark, a late addition to the 2017 recruiting class, could be this year’s Mason. He was undervalued by most big-time programs, much like Mason during the 2016 cycle. But sweet mercy, does Clark have speed — the kind that could make him a nightmare in the slot despite being only 5 feet 9 and 170 pounds. He played outside at Cypress Springs, Texas, but Mizzou prefers to use smaller guys in the slot and his high school film is reminiscent of Johnson’s, including the game-breaking return ability.
Overall grade: C. There’s reason to think this could be a position of strength for the Tigers in 2017, but right now it’s hard to say this group has distinguished itself as better than an average collection given its game-day production.
QUARTERBACKS | Drew Lock settles in atop quarterback depth chart
RUNNING BACKS | Damarea Crockett sets sights sky high for 2017