COLUMBIA — Missouri returns six starters on offense from last year's 8-5 season in which the Tigers were a win against Kentucky away from finishing second in the Southeastern Conference's East Division.
But questions, both locally and nationally, about how Missouri's offense will look this year have found their way to offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Derek Dooley. And while he's got some clue of exactly where and how much the system will change between now and Aug. 31 in Laramie, Wyo., it's too early even for him to pin down.
"Well, I don't feel any different than I did last year," Dooley said Wednesday. "Every year, they only remember, kinda, your next year. So you can go from doing a really good job to doing a really bad job, doesn't take long, and certainly in this league you're always one week away from getting embarrassed. The minute you think you're doing pretty good, you're going to get knocked on your ass pretty quickly."
That offense was third a year ago in the SEC in scoring average at 36.6 points per game, nine points behind Alabama, 1.3 points behind Georgia and 0.6 points ahead of Texas A&M, third in total offense at 481.8 yards per game behind Alabama and Mississippi, third in passing yards per game (279.4) and fifth in rushing yards per game (202.4).
The past is the past, sure, but there is also a track record of offensive success that continued after Dooley replaced Josh Heupel and made adjustments. Still, the former Tennessee head coach was coy when asked directly how a change in quarterback would affect the offense's output.
"Well, I really don't know, because I've never seen Kelly (Bryant) play in a Missouri Tiger uniform," Dooley said. "I obviously watched him at Clemson, and certainly we're going to try to build it around what he does best, but the advantage Kelly brings is we think he can throw it equally as well as he can run it."
Swapping Bryant for Drew Lock is not an exact like-for-like exchange. But Dooley's offense, adapted from his time with the Dallas Cowboys, drew up designed runs for Lock, decidedly a pocket passer, last season to catch teams off-guard. Bryant is at least more elusive out of the backfield, and it makes sense for him to get similar, and likely more, chances to keep the ball this season.
As for his arm, Dooley and others in the program have pushed back on the idea that this season's approach, play-calling and goals through the air will be drastically different from last season.
"A lot of our offense, we're still running the same offense we ran last year," Dooley said. "Everybody thinks we're putting in some new offense, you know, we're not. We're running the same offense we did last year, and we do what we do every year. We see who our playmakers are, who our quarterback is, and then we fine-tune and shape the plays to try to utilize their strengths and minimize what they don't do as well."
In other words, not much different than in any other college football camp anywhere else in America in the two weeks of August.
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney put Bryant's name in national news Wednesday, telling ESPN there would not be a College Football Playoff championship ring in the mail for his former quarterback.
"He wasn't on the team," Swinney said. "You've gotta be on the team to get a ring. I love Kelly and appreciate what he did for us, but he decided to move on."
Bryant, who was 16-2 at Clemson and started the first four games of what would turn out to be a 15-0 season, elected to sit out the remainder of the year to preserve a final season of eligibility and transfer as a graduate. Swinney and Bryant haven't spoken since Bryant transferred, but he has on multiple occasions wished the former four-star recruit the best at Missouri.
A handful of former teammates paid Bryant a visit for Missouri's spring game April 13, including linebacker Isaiah Simmons, who is from Olathe, Kan.
Notes: Former Missouri wide receiver Emanuel Hall will have to wait at least another week to make his pro debut. Hall was not on the pregame list of expected inactive players the Chicago Bears released before their preseason game Thursday against Carolina, but the Chicago Tribune's Brad Biggs noted Hall was not in uniform during warmups. Lock was 5-of-7 for 55 yards with Denver in the first half of Thursday night's preseason game at Seattle. Other rookies looking to break onto their respective rosters include OL Paul Adams (New York Giants), LB Terez Hall (New England Patriots), and RB Damarea Crockett and DL Walter Palmore (Houston Texans). Crockett scored a touchdown on a 1-yard run against the Packers in Green Bay, Wis.