COLUMBIA, Mo. – The arrival of August will be greeted by the opening of the Missouri football team’s preseason camp. The Tigers will get started at 9 a.m. today. Fan day is set for 7 p.m. Saturday on Faurot Field.
Missouri will have 20 practice dates, with media availability on 13 of those dates.
Here are five story lines to monitor as camp unfolds:
1. Who are the playmakers on defense?
There aren’t many established forces on defense. Defensive end Marcell Frazier had a furious finish in the last three games of last season. He’ll be counted on to be a pass-rushing weapon, and Terry Beckner Jr. has shown he’s a playmaker when healthy, though he’s coming off his second knee surgery in as many seasons.
Otherwise, there’s a lot of mystery.
Defensive tackle Rashad Brandon, a junior college transfer, and hybrid linebacker/nickelback Kaleb Prewett, a Kansas State transfer and Blue Springs High School graduate, were as good as anyone during the spring.
The size of cornerback DeMarkus Acy, who is 6-foot-2, 195 pounds, makes him enticing from a physical standpoint.
Middle linebacker Eric Beisel was dependable in his five games of extended playing time following the injury to Michael Scherer last fall.
Defensive end Tre Williams has the combination of length and athleticism you want at that position, but the redshirt freshman hasn’t had a chance to prove himself in game action.
This defense doesn't feature a Charles Harris or Kentrell Brothers or Sean Weatherspoon – veteran playmakers with an established track record.
Perhaps the freshness isn’t all bad, though, considering Missouri’s defense was woeful last season.
2. How do the new junior college additions look on the defensive line?
Many Tiger fans probably already have begun to get familiar with Brandon. As an early enrollee, he participated in spring camp, and he made five tackles in the Black & Gold Game.
Another junior college addition, defensive end Nate Anderson, enrolled this summer. As of last check, junior college signees Walter Palmore and Malik Young had not enrolled, but they’re expected to arrive before the season. Those defensive tackles were considered two of the biggest prizes in Missouri’s signing class, which also includes four freshmen defensive linemen.
Given the departure of Harris, the spring transfer of Spencer Williams, and the uncertain future of Nate Howard, who remains suspended while facing a Class D felony charge for possession of a controlled substance, there’s a gaping hole that needs filled opposite Frazier on the defensive line.
And the interior of the line could use some help, too, in support of Beckner, Brandon and senior A.J. Logan.
3. Which true freshman emerges as a potential star?
Last year, wide receiver Dimetrios Mason impressed his coaches throughout camp, and it wasn’t long before he was in the starting lineup opposite J’Mon Moore.
Barry Odom isn’t afraid to play a rookie if he proves his worth.
Center Case Cook is probably the most likely freshman candidate to emerge as a potential starter. And don’t be surprised if one of the freshman cornerbacks, Adam Sparks and Terry Petry, contend for a spot in the rotation.
4. Does Drew Lock look poised to become one of the SEC’s best quarterbacks?
Lock improved last year as a sophomore and showed off some of the talent that has many believing he's a future NFL QB. With 20 career starts and a big arm, there’s a lot to like in Lock entering his junior season. But he must iron out the inconsistencies in his performance that proved costly in losses to Georgia and South Carolina. Lock also struggled mightily in blowout losses to LSU and Florida.
Lock’s overall numbers from his 2016 season look pretty good – a 54.6 percent completion rate, 3,399 yards, 23 touchdowns and 10 interceptions – but take out games against Eastern Michigan and Delaware State, and it’s much more pedestrian: 51.8 percent completion, 2,547 yards, 13 TDs and 10 interceptions.
If Missouri is to have a hope of finishing in the top half of the East, it needs a more consistent year from Lock.
5. Have the drops been cured?
In fairness to Lock, he was plagued by too many drops by his wide receivers last season. That includes his top target, Moore, who knows he has to cut down on the miscues.
Moore is Lock’s No. 1 weapon for good reason. He has good speed, gets separation down field and provides a sizable target on shorter passes. His 1,012 receiving yards ranked second in the SEC last season. Shoring up his hands is the final piece. It wasn’t just Moore, though. A more sure-handed year from Mason and Johnathon Johnson would help, too.