Missouri fans held their breath when Brad Smith suffered a concussion in last season’s second game.
A star quarterback and Heisman Trophy candidate was sidelined indefinitely. With no proven backup, the season could have been done almost before it started.
Concerns were eased, though, when backup Sonny Riccio stepped in and led the Tigers on two second-half scoring drives to preserve that 35-7 win against Ball State. Even if Smith was out, Riccio had proven he could run the offense efficiently.
Smith will again be a Heisman Trophy contender this season, but Riccio, having transferred to the University of Delaware, will not be the one to calm nerves should Smith get hurt.
That job will fall to Brandon Coleman, a redshirt sophomore who has yet to take a college snap. Missouri fans need not start panicking, though, each time Smith hits the ground.
“We think he can do the job,” David Yost, Missouri’s quarterbacks coach, said. “We think he can be a Big 12 quarterback. When we recruited him we thought he could be a good Big 12 quarterback. Now it’s his time to show he can do that.”
A bright future
There are reasons for such optimism. Coleman established himself as a dual threat at Miami North High, throwing for 1,461 yards and running for 735 more as a senior. He was a two-time All-County selection and rivals.com ranked him as one of the top 40 athletes in the nation.
At 6 feet 4, he is 2 inches taller than Smith and can match his blazing speed and uncanny ability to evade defenders.
“We are kind of similar,” Smith said. “He’s athletic and big and can go out and make plays.”
Coleman has also showed a willingness to learn from his superiors. During his redshirt freshman season, he was twice named scout team player of the week. Last season, he noted how Riccio mentally prepared for each game, readying to go with each snap, though he threw 22 passes.
He also is confident enough to believe that, as long as he does his job, coaches won’t need to consider playing any of the Tigers’ quarterback recruits, including highly regarded Chase Patton of Rock Bridge or Darrell Jackson.
“I’m confident in myself,” Coleman said. “I know I can do it. I just need to show my team.”
Coach Gary Pinkel said the need to prepare Coleman became more urgent after Riccio transferred. He and Yost are watching closely during spring drills to make sure Coleman knows how to handle the essentials, such as running checks and monitoring the 25-second clock.
Yost is working with him on footwork, body language, and maintaining an even keel. Pinkel said he has seen positives so far, but the question of whether Coleman can lead the team on a regular basis remains unanswered.
“He’s made a lot of improvement,” Pinkel said. “Hopefully he’ll get there.”