COLUMBIA, Mo. – It’s almost here, folks.
When Missouri football opens fall camp Friday, there’s plenty of hope around the Tigers that this season will be special despite looming NCAA sanctions.
When camp opens, the 29-day countdown to the Tigers’ first game at Wyoming begins. Missouri will have 14 of its 17 fall preseason practices open to the media, including the first 12, spanning from Aug. 2 to 15.
That should give us plenty of time to get a grasp on where everything stands heading into Week 1 in Laramie.
Here are five things to look out for as Missouri begins fall camp:
1. Offensive formations
Kelly Bryant is in as the signal caller after one of the best quarterbacks in Missouri history, Drew Lock, moved on to the NFL.
The Tigers’ offensive play-calling in recent years was based on Lock’s pocket presence and strengths. I’d imagine we’d see some tweaks so the same statement can be made about Bryant running the show.
How many times did Missouri offensive coordinator Derek Dooley call a designed run for Lock last season? Not many.
That should increase 10-fold with Bryant. Those option or draw plays should replace a few of the trickier downfield throws the Tigers’ staff felt comfortable with in the hands of Lock.
While Bryant will have over a dozen chances per game to throw the ball to a deep group of wide receivers, the way the Tigers line up could be presented totally differently than in previous years, maybe since Brad Smith went to the pros.
A pistol formation could suit the Tigers well with personnel changes that could include multiple running backs and tight ends on any given play.
2. Position battles
At SEC Media Days, Missouri head coach Barry Odom revealed a few lineup changes and not many spots where starting jobs are up for grabs.
Has that changed in recent weeks? Will it over the four weeks of preseason camp?
Over a dozen starting spots appear to be locks except in the case of injury. Bryant, tight end Albert Okwuegbunam, three returning offensive linemen and several defensive returners will be featured in the Tigers’ starting lineup.
There are spots of less certainty as to who will rotate with the first string. At left guard, the starting spot looks to be between the sophomore duo of Larry Borom and Chase Cook.
At one of the defensive tackle slots, juniors Kobie Whiteside and Akial Byers will compete for playing time.
A lot can develop or change between practice No. 1 and game No. 1 as every Tiger focuses on making on-field impact.
Another area to watch for is which wide receivers separate themselves this fall. Does Johnathon Johnson immediately slide into Emanuel Hall’s old spot as the pass-game weapon of choice? Do any of the wide range of sophomores see a big jump in responsibility?
3. Pass rush
Arguably Missouri’s biggest red flag heading into fall camp is its defensive line, mainly how it plans to sustain a pass rush.
The Tigers never really got that element on track last season and it would have been helpful in a few tight games.
Missouri’s defensive front line isn’t a true anchor for the team and can be improved in camp. But solely improving and getting to a level to make a difference every week in the Southeastern Conference are two separate things.
Developing a consistent pass rush isn’t just on the defensive line, with blitz packages expected for the linebackers and every once in a while, a defensive back.
Will Missouri display a Dick LeBeau-style repertoire or will it try and punch opponents in the mouth to cement that facet of the game?
Of course, we’ll hopefully get an update on Rock Bridge graduate and defensive end Tre Williams, who despite being indefinitely suspended from the team since December, was reinstated to Missouri’s roster Wednesday.
It’s hard to tell how effective he’ll be this season if he sees the field for the Tigers after missing so many team meetings and practices.
Returning experience from the likes of Trajan Jeffcoat, Cale Garrett, Jordan Elliott and Chris Turner will help in those efforts, especially with how Missouri plans on playing five defensive backs in most formations with the new Boundary position. Speaking of the new position ...
4. The Boundary position
It’s the biggest defensive scheme change for Missouri. As the offense should adapt to Bryant and crew, the move to put five defensive backs on the field at once is poised to have the same type of impact.
The Tigers moved Richaud Floyd from wide receiver to defensive back to give them more depth and there are plenty of returners who have spent the offseason diagnosing how to limit poor performances like they had against Purdue, Oklahoma State and others.
Almost as an H-Back would serve in an offense with responsibilities of running, receiving and blocking, expect the Boundary spot to camouflage itself wherever Missouri needs it for any given play.
Want to have five 1-on-1 matchups with receivers? Maybe a blitz from 10 yards out? Or how about having a traditional third linebacker?
All of that is possible with the flexibility the new Boundary position can give the Tigers.
This can be a spot where Missouri’s young talent get a chance to shine, namely Jalani Williams and Chris Sheanin.
Missouri didn’t list a single true freshman as a starter, but with certain rotations to best thwart any offense, it’s possible to see some playing time for the newest batch of Tigers.
Odom hasn’t hesitated to play those with less experience in the past if it was best for the team. That can continue here.
5. Special teams
If the defensive line is the biggest red flag heading into camp, special teams is barely second, only because of the leg of Tucker McCann.
McCann is listed as the team’s starting kicker and punter. That load is something the former five-star prospect can handle, but I don’t see it lasting.
Have the Tigers brought in a former soccer standout or local high school star as a walk-on? And what type of punt plays do they run?
Inexperience could lead to trial by error and Missouri has a schedule that allows several games to adjust.
Jake Hoffman, a redshirt freshman, was listed on the depth chart as the Tigers’ starting long snapper. Does his ability help calm whoever is about to boot the punt?
It’s a part of the game that isn’t too exciting, but if Missouri gets it wrong, it’ll be plainly obvious.
Also, who do the Tigers implement as a punt returner, kick returner and placeholder?
There are options for each of those spots. Missouri definitely doesn’t have an issue when it comes to team speed.
A few other honorable mentions: Who is the backup to Bryant? Is TCU transfer Shawn Robinson eligible to play? Has Missouri already identified any possible redshirts for 2019? Has any player besides Terry Petry entered the transfer portal? How do the Tigers plan to ramp up recruiting efforts as the early-signing period draws closer? What’s the warm-up song of choice for this Tigers squad?