After Down Season, Can Missouri Tigers Rebound at QB in 2016?

Nov 27, 2015; Fayetteville, AR, USA; Missouri Tigers quarterback Drew Lock (3) during the second quarter against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 27, 2015; Fayetteville, AR, USA; Missouri Tigers quarterback Drew Lock (3) during the second quarter against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports /

After Drew Lock struggled during his true freshman season, can he become the quarterback that the Missouri Tigers hoped for in 2016?

Just one year ago, the Missouri Tigers’ quarterback depth looked so promising. They had an established two-year starter (Maty Mauk), a hotshot freshman who was considered one of the best prospects in the country (Drew Lock), a veteran backup with previous starting experience (Corbin Berkstresser), and two more intriguing backups (Eddie Printz and Marvin Zanders) who looked like they might have long-term starting potential.

As we inch closer to the start of preseason practice in 2016, the Tigers’ depth at QB is much more uncertain. Mauk dealt with multiple suspensions, eventually culminating in his dismissal from the program after a video was leaked appearing to show him snorting cocaine. Lock was pressed into full-time duty much sooner than he probably should have been, but there’s no way to sugarcoat his disastrous freshman season, during which he completed just 49 percent of his passes, averaged just 10.3 yards per completion, and threw for only four touchdowns compared to eight interceptions.

It could be seen as a potential confidence-booster for Lock or a sad sign of how lacking the Tigers’ quarterback depth is at the moment, but the true sophomore appears to be locked into the starting role as Mizzou gets ready for the 2016 season. In addition to Mauk’s dismissal, the Tigers lost Berkstresser to graduation, and Printz decided to transfer to Texas State, so Lock and Zanders are the only returning quarterbacks. They added Jack Lowary, a transfer from Long Beach City College, and Micah Wilson, a three-star recruit from Tulsa, Oklahoma, but Lock is now the only Mizzou quarterback who’s ever thrown a collegiate pass, and for that matter, the only one who has been viewed by experts to have legitimate starting potential.

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Obviously, the biggest key—not just at the quarterback position, but perhaps for the entire program—will be getting Lock turned around in 2016 and helping him develop into the quarterback that he was so widely expected to be when he came out of high school. After working with him at the Nike Elite 11 quarterback camp in 2014, former Super Bowl champion and current ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer had extremely high praise for Lock, telling the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Dave Matter: “He has that presence to him that’s more important than his talent. He’s a leader of men and he’s going to have tremendous influence not just on the football field but in life…when he gets in the weight room a little bit and matures, Drew’s got a chance to be as good as anybody…Drew Lock is an NFL prospect the day he steps on campus.” For what it’s worth, Dilfer did mention Lock’s lack of physical strength as the attribute that he most needed to improve in order to be successful, so perhaps after an offseason in the Mizzou weight room, he’ll be better prepared to be an effective signal-caller in the SEC.

Drew Lock Missouri Tigers
Nov 14, 2015; Kansas City, MO, USA; Missouri Tigers quarterback Drew Lock (3) celebrates after a run during the second half against the Brigham Young Cougars at Arrowhead Stadium. Missouri won 20-16. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports /

As far as the players behind Lock, Zanders appears to be the top backup heading into fall practice. The redshirt sophomore has sparked intrigue over the past couple years because of his athleticism and ability to be a dual-threat quarterback, but there are still questions about Zanders’ throwing ability, thus the rumors since his arrival that he’ll eventually end up at a different position. Now that Printz and Berkstresser are both gone, though, Zanders has his best chance yet to see playing time at QB. For what it’s worth, he put up good numbers during the Tigers’ spring game, going 8-for-13 for 83 yards and a touchdown, though there was some concern surrounding his inability to make some of the tougher throws that he was asked to execute.

Lowary, a 6-foot-4, 220-pounder out of Huntington Beach, California, could push Zanders for the top backup job. He arrived at Mizzou soon enough to participate in spring practice, but he wasn’t very impressive during the spring game, completing just two passes in 10 tries for two yards. Lowary is said to be a strong leader with above-average arm strength, though, and he was effective as a JUCO player, throwing for 3,306 yards, 28 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions in 12 games. It appears that he’s got some serious work to do before he’d be considered a legitimate starting-caliber quarterback in the SEC, but he’s a nice fallback option with a little bit of collegiate playing experience, even if it was on a significantly less competitive playing field than he’ll be on at Mizzou.

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Wilson, who broke a commitment from Boise State in January and decided to attend Mizzou, is a disciplined signal-caller with a strong football pedigree who probably projects best as a backup, but might be able to work his way into a starting role later on in his career. The 6-foot-3, 205-pounder brings a nice combination of accuracy and athleticism, as he completed 71 percent of his passes for 56 touchdowns and two interceptions as a high school senior, while also running for 596 yards and 11 touchdowns. Wilson, who is actually very reminiscent of Mauk in many ways, from his long, wavy hair to the outright dominance as both a passer and runner that he displayed in high school, is almost certain to redshirt this year unless all the Tigers’ other quarterbacks go down.

Next: Five Freshmen Who Could Impact the Missouri Tigers in 2016

The Tigers will also have freshman Evan Johnson of Westminster Christian Academy in St. Louis in camp as a preferred walk-on. It’s safe to say that Mizzou’s quarterback situation will have turned into an absolute trainwreck if Johnson ends up seeing action in 2016, but the 6-foot-2, 180-pounder does appear to have some potential, as he threw for 2,754 yards and 34 touchdowns during his senior year.