By Nate Smith
With fall camp now underway, quarterback Kelly Bryant has emerged as the unquestioned leader of the Missouri Tigers offense. While high expectations surround Bryant, it’s nothing he hasn’t seen before. After all, this isn’t the first time Bryant has been at the helm of a high-powered Tigers offense, having started 18 career games for the Clemson Tigers prior to transferring to Mizzou. Despite going 16-2 in those starts, Bryant lost his starting [repet.] job last season to true freshman Trevor Lawrence. If that name sounds familiar, that’s because it should. Lawrence burst onto the scene last year as a true freshman, guiding Clemson to a National Championship victory over Alabama.
The reality of the situation at Clemson was that both Bryant and Lawrence were simply too good to ride the bench—so something had to give, and someone had to sit. After Lawrence took over the reins, Bryant opted to transfer, hoping to find more playing time at another school. After receiving a high level of interest from several prominent programs, Bryant ultimately decided to attend Mizzou. With the departure of Drew Lock to the NFL, the quarterback gig is Bryant’s to lose. If you’re banking on him to lose the job, don’t hold your breath.
In addition to Lock, Missouri also lost running back Demarea Crockett and wide receiver Emmanuel Hall to the NFL. Nonetheless, the Tigers won’t have any shortage of playmakers, helping to ease the burden on Bryant. Seniors Johnathan Johnson and Jonathan Nance will start at wideout, along with rapidly improving sophomore Jaylen Knox out of Mansfield, Texas. In recent comments to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch [ital?], Knox says he’s feeling extremely confident heading into this season, and very comfortable within the offense. The 6’0” 195-pound receiver already opened some eyes last season, flashing impressive agility and establishing himself as a legitimate big-play threat. Now armed with an expanded route tree and another offseason under his belt, Knox is primed for a breakout season.
The passing game will also feature junior tight end Albert Okwuegbanum, who was honored as a preseason Second Team All-American by the Sporting News. ‘Albert O’ looks to continue in the footsteps of former star Tigers tight ends like Kellen Winslow, or more recently Chase Coffman and Martin Rucker. For Okwuegbanum, being named to the preseason Mackey Award watch list is certainly a step in the right direction.
Larry Roundtree III returns to head an exciting backfield, that also features sophomores Tyler Badie and Simi Bakare. In recent seasons, Missouri has been able to get significant production from multiple running backs, and this season should be no different. All of this is certainly music to the ears of second-year offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Derek Dooley, who will have a full arsenal of offensive weapons to play with. Dooley and Kelly Bryant will also have the benefit of being able to rely on a solid and experienced starting offensive line that features three upperclassmen.
A bit of negative news on Monday afternoon threatened to dampen what has otherwise been an extremely positive start to fall camp for the Tigers. Both Kelly Bryant and Albert Okwuegbanum suffered minor injuries, forcing them to sit out the remainder of practice. The good news for Missouri is that Head Coach Barry Odom was quick to downplay the likelihood of any long term or serious injury. Speaking to Dave Matter of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Odom said, “fortunately, looks like they’re going to be back and be ready to go”. These comments—while slightly vague—let Tiger fans rest easier, without putting an overt pressure on Bryant or Okwuegbanum to rush back. Barring any setbacks, both players should be ready to go for the season opener on August 31 in Wyoming. This is great news for a Missouri team whose offensive outlook rests largely on the shoulders of Okwuegbanum, and especially Kelly Bryant.