Missouri’s long-term future at quarterback changed swiftly over a few weeks in December — so swiftly, in fact, that coach Barry Odom was making an in-home recruiting visit with Class of 2019 quarterback prospect Connor Bazelak when graduate transfer Kelly Bryant committed to play for the Tigers on Dec. 4.
"It was cool for him to be over at our house when it unfolded,” Bazelak said.
But that night with Bazelak, Odom didn’t talk about Bryant.
Odom and offensive coordinator Derek Dooley continued recruiting Bazelak, a four-star prospect per ESPN, who committed in June and signed with Missouri on Dec. 19. The Tigers also got a commitment on Dec. 18 from TCU transfer quarterback Shawn Robinson, who started six games for the Horned Frogs this season. Odom said on signing day that retaining Bazelak’s commitment was “huge.”
Bryant can play in 2019 and is set to be the starter for one year. Robinson is eligible to play in 2020 and 2021. Bazelak can play in four games next year while retaining his redshirt, which would give him the option to stay at Missouri until 2023.
Drew Lock will leave large shoes to fill. He’ll depart with the second-most passing yards in Missouri and Southeastern Conference history. (He’ll finish third in SEC history and second in Missouri history in passing touchdowns.)
Lock’s numbers regressed in 2018, but his decision to return for one more year has largely paid off. After a more efficient season under Dooley, Lock’s draft projection is peaking at the right time. A number of outlets CBS Sports, Walter Football and SB Nation among them) rate Lock as one of the three best quarterback prospects in the draft and a likely first-round pick.
That was a selling point for the quarterbacks Missouri brought in this offseason.
“They saw the success Drew had, and in the short amount of time he had with Coach Dooley in that system,” Odom said. “I think for Kelly, that he could step in in January and understand what we’re doing offensively and make the growth that Drew did, I think that was part of it for him.”
Bryant’s skill set will likely force a transition for the Tigers’ offense next year. It may not have to be severe. Lock completed 63.2 percent of his passes and averaged 7.8 yards per pass attempt in 2018 — Bryant completed 65.8 percent of his passes and averaged 7 yards per attempt in 14 games last year. In the four games he played this year, Bryant completed 66 percent of his passes and averaged 8.6 yards per attempt.
Bryant adds a potent and consistent running threat, and that's where there’s likely to be major changes. Danny Heitert, a college scout for STC Grid Reports, said Bryant was really more of a “running back playing quarterback in terms of running skills.”
“The defense that allows the tightest windows against a passer is a man defense, which is easier to run against,” Heitert said. “Conversely, the defenses with the largest windows are zone defenses, but because defenses are frontal, zone-based defenses are harder to run against. A quarterback without an extreme but is proficient at both, that's the guy I want.
"That's Kelly Bryant.”
That’s Robinson, too. He was a star high school prospect, especially after he led DeSoto High School in Texas to its first-ever state championship in 2016.
Before Robinson transferred to DeSoto for his senior season, the school had a well-earned reputation in Texas as one of the best football programs without a state championship. It came close in 2012 and 2013, going 14-1 with losses in the semifinals of 6A, Texas’ largest class. Both semifinal losses were to Allen High School, whose quarterback was future Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray.
Robinson immediately helped bolster DeSoto’s prospects in 2016, adding a huge arm and a running threat to an offense already loaded with Division I prospects. Among them were Missouri offensive lineman Hyrin White and Colorado wide receiver Laviska Shenault.
“It was a transition for our guys catching his ball because he had so much zip on it,” said Brandon Harrison, who was then the wide receivers coach at DeSoto and is now the head coach. “There was one particular time I was standing in the passing area where he was throwing an out route and I could hear the wind of the ball come by me, he was throwing it so hard and precise.”
DeSoto entered the state championship undefeated after a grueling run to the final. In the championship, Robinson completed 17 of 24 passes for 221 yards and two touchdowns and added 201 yards and a touchdown rushing. DeSoto beat Cibolo Steele 38-29.
Robinson committed to TCU, where he was quickly lauded as a savior.
“When he committed there, he was really sold as the best quarterback to ever commit to TCU,” said Shehan Jeyarajah, a college football insider for Dave Campbell’s Texas Football. … “Trevone Boykin and Andy Dalton, neither of them were really top-level recruits. Shawn Robinson was this legit, four-star quarterback, this kid who led DeSoto to their first-ever state championship.”
Robinson played in six games as a freshman and was made the starter in 2018. He had flashes of success — TCU led Ohio State at halftime in Week 3 and beat Iowa State in Week 5 — but many of those were offset by ill-timed turnovers, which were the difference in losses to Ohio State and Texas.
After suffering an injury Sept. 29, Robinson played a full game against Texas Tech and one half against Oklahoma before he was pulled for backup Michael Collins. Robinson elected to have shoulder surgery in October and announced his decision to transfer in December, eventually landing at Missouri.
All the quarterback additions didn’t bother Bazelak. He led his team, Archbishop Alter High School in Kettering, Ohio, to the state championship game in November despite a significant hamstring pull in the state semifinals.
Bazelak said the coaching staff was “honest and upfront” with him about the other additions at quarterback, and he “never had any doubts” about signing with the Tigers.
“Kelly Bryant coming in is awesome for the program, for me,” Bazelak said. “It’s a big-name quarterback who is really good, who can lead the team next year as a senior. Then I can compete and develop next year, play some as a redshirt freshman ... and then compete after that once Kelly is gone.”