COLUMBIA — The news out of Missouri football training camp was about as good as it could get Wednesday morning.
Quarterback Kelly Bryant, tight end Albert Okwuegbunam and defensive tackle Jordan Elliott were all in full pads and went through full practice two days after Bryant (hamstring) and Okwuegbunam (knee) spent the end of practice in the medical tent. Missouri coach Barry Odom said Elliott also took a few licks.
Three of the Tigers' most high-profile and high-impact players will not need to miss extended time in recovery. Instead, Bryant was his usual self, dancing on the field between drills, Elliott was back with the starting defensive line and Okwuegbunam picked up where he left off in the receiving game, including a twisting grab over the head of Adam Sparks on the sideline in a 7-on-7 red zone drill.
Bryant confirmed he slipped on the new turf field Monday, and went down without contact because his feet were too far apart when he tried to make a move.
"I feel good, just to get back out here," the Clemson transfer said. "It was kind of a weird feeling that happened (Monday). It was just one of those weird feelings where I didn't really know what was going on, I just wanted to make sure everything was cleared. So we checked, everything checked out good, happy to be back out here practicing."
Bryant was named the starter not long after he transferred to Columbia. His presence, leadership and experience are expected to help guide the offense that, behind an experienced offensive line, is mostly made up of young guys or transfers at the skill positions.
At least in that respect, the Tigers' season hinges on Bryant remaining healthy. The Missouri staff of course knows injuries don't discriminate, and are also giving practice reps at quarterback to Taylor Powell, Lindsey Scott Jr. and Connor Bazelak. But striking that balance between getting a new quarterback up to speed in a new offense, and readying his replacement just in case, is delicate.
"That's the hardest thing in college football," offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Derek Dooley said. "In the pros, the 2 guy doesn't even get a rep. The 1 gets every rep. And I kinda would like to give Kelly every rep, but you can't do that. We've got to get the next guy ready, Taylor's our next guy right now, and you've always got to have one more ready. It's just hard to rep them. You don't have enough time, you don't have enough bodies."
Missouri had 16 different players catch a pass during the 2018 season. The Tigers return 10, as Emanuel Hall, Kendall Blanton, Nate Brown, Damarea Crockett and Samson Bailey all graduated and/or went to the NFL, and Richaud Floyd switched to defensive back.
Hall caught 37 passes for 828 yards and six touchdowns. The other five departed pass-catchers hauled in 37 receptions for 453 yards and three scores.
Returning, Johnathon Johnson is 883 yards from surpassing Danario Alexander's program record of 2,778 career receiving yards and 77 receptions from Justin Gage's program record for career receptions at wide receiver.
Four of the top eight pass-catchers from the 2018 season by yards — Jalen Knox, Kam Scott, Dominic Gicinto and Tyler Badie — were freshmen.
And with the additions of Jonathan Nance by way of transfer from Arkansas, and freshmen Maurice Massey and C.J. Boone, Missouri is aiming to not just replace Hall's production but surpass it, though likely spread out among several different targets.
"I'm hoping so," wide receivers coach Garrick McGee said. "We've just got to continue to play, continue to concentrate on the little things, attack coverages. But we've got fast guys that can get down the field on our roster."
Scott and Knox both introduced themselves to Missouri fans a year ago with explosive deep plays, Knox against UT-Martin and Scott at Purdue, and Nance said at the start of camp his favorite route to run is a go route. Massey, with his 6-foot-3 frame and long arms, has already been a consistent downfield target and will have a chance to see playing time in more than the four-game maximum that would preserve a redshirt year.
"C.J. comes in, he has a lot of speed, he's got to work on getting a little bit bigger and stronger," Dooley said. "Massey is really showing some good things, he's got really good size. A little more developed physically. Really good hands. His biggest deal is now learning what to do and how to do it well."
The Southeastern Conference released its 2020 football schedule Wednesday.
The Tigers will play two early conference games, Sept. 12 against Vanderbilt and Sept. 19 at South Carolina, following the season opener Sept. 5 against Central Arkansas.
Missouri's bye isn't until Week 9 and falls on Halloween, after the Tigers host Eastern Michigan Sept. 26, visit Tennessee Oct. 3 and Brigham Young Oct. 10, and host Georgia and Kentucky the weeks before. Missouri's game against the Wildcats Oct. 24 will be Homecoming.
After the bye, the Tigers play at Mississippi State on Nov. 7, at Florida on Nov. 14, and host the University of Louisiana on Nov. 21 and Arkansas the day after Thanksgiving to close out the regular season.