When Missouri football’s starting quarterback, Kelly Bryant, went down with a hamstring strain late in Monday’s practice, the first thought was: “What does this team do without him?”
Worst-case scenario, yes. But it’s a question that surely popped into more than a few people’s heads.
The injury doesn’t seem to be severe. Or at least head coach Barry Odom didn’t think so Monday afternoon. When questioned by reporters after practice on the status of Bryant and Albert Okwuegbunam, who left the field with an injury just minutes before Bryant did, Odom didn’t have updates but seemed optimistic that neither would miss much time.
“Guys are banged up,” Odom said. “Kelly went down today for a little bit with a hamstring strain. Albert went down with a knee sprain. Those guys will be back. ... That’s the worst part of this deal. But injuries are going to happen. But fortunately, looks like they’re going to be back and be ready to go.”
Still, Bryant having to leave practice early makes one think about who and what is behind him if this injury — or one that happens later — keeps him out of action for any significant time.
Bryant is the crown jewel of the Tigers’ newcomers, the guy who came to Columbia provide stability to the quarterback position — if only for a year — after Drew Lock left for the NFL. The depth chart at quarterback has been murky at best, but a healthy Bryant’s presence is a big reason for the projections that Missouri could be a top-two team in the Southeastern Conference’s East Division.
Shawn Robinson, the transfer from TCU, is highly-touted, too, but his eligibility waiver request was denied; he won’t be available to the Tigers until the 2020 season. That makes Taylor Powell the clear No. 2 behind Bryant for the time being. Powell, though, completed just six of 14 passes backing up Lock in 2018, and Lindsey Scott Jr. and Connor Bazelak have yet to throw a pass in an NCAA Division I football game.
So, the question remains: What does this team do without Bryant?
The likeliest answer is this: There isn’t much it can do.
You think about what Bryant does between his mix of passing and running ability, and you can imagine the effect he’ll have on the Tigers’ offensive scheme. Offensive coordinator Derek Dooley’s play-calling will look different with Bryant than it did with Lock, with more reads, options and play action passes filling the playbook.
But what happens if Bryant can’t play?
Dooley would surely have to change his play-calling, as neither Powell, Scott Jr. or Bazelak have proven yet that they’re capable of stepping right in and not letting Missouri miss a beat.
At Clemson, Bryant had the advantage of playing for a program in the midst of one of the most impressive college football runs in recent memory, but that shouldn’t detract from how good he is at what he does. He backed up Deshaun Watson, who is currently one of the top young quarterbacks in the NFL, and then — in his lone season as the starter in 2017 — he led those Tigers to the No. 1 seed in the College Football Playoff. When he lost his starting job last season to freshman phenom Trevor Lawrence, it was to one of the current favorites to take home the Heisman Trophy this season.
There’s a reason Missouri wasn’t the only Power 5 program — or SEC program, for that matter — that pined for Bryant’s services. He put up big numbers in his only full season as a starter (3,467 all-purpose yards, 24 total touchdowns), and his arrival in Columbia immediately bumped Missouri up a few levels in the college football world.
Having to replace Bryant wouldn’t be an easy task for this squad. It would be similar to the Tigers having to replace Lock over any of the past few seasons. That’s how important Bryant is to Missouri’s success in 2019.
So while Odom and Co. hope this injury isn’t serious, it’s nonetheless a nerve-wracking reminder about what Missouri would be up against if it is.
Supervising editor is Michael Knisley.