Missouri football held its second scrimmage of fall practices Saturday morning, and this one was closed to the media. While the Tigers got more elaborate with their schemes and playbook at this scrimmage, writers were left with nothing to do. So here are four observations on the team so far based on preseason camp up to this point.
Slot receivers behind Johnson excelling
Missouri was careful this week with senior slot receiver Johnathon Johnson, who is nursing a minor toe injury. He’s MU’s most experienced receiver and will play the majority of snaps in the slot this season.
The Tigers are well insured behind Johnson, though. Sophomores Dominic Gicinto and Barrett Banister have made their presence felt this fall, each showing that they have reliable hands and work well at getting separation in space.
Gicinto made 15 catches for 171 yards as a role player his freshman year, scoring a pair of touchdowns. And Banister, who will be a redshirt sophomore, was given a scholarship in January after his contributions last season were infrequent but always impactful.
Missouri brought him in and targeted him on third downs and red zone plays to immense success.
Early impressions show that even as Johnson leads the way, Gicinto and Banister should be featured in at least a somewhat increased role after last year. They’ll be Johnson’s successor after this season.
Kelly Bryant shows flashes of brilliance but inconsistency
Missouri’s graduate transfer quarterback didn’t look at his best in the first scrimmage last week, but perhaps with fair excuse as the Tigers used a simplistic play selection and were without Johnson and Albert Okwuegbunam.
Still, Bryant had some accuracy issues and has struggled with consistency hitting targets at times, especially on deep balls and when using the middle of the field.
His pass offense has looked most efficient in short-yardage situations rather than downfield — which isn’t a bad thing at all if utilized well — but if Bryant has a weakness, right now it’s reliability throwing 15-plus yards.
He has shown flashes of brilliance.
He threw a couple of strikes on deep passing drills last week, and it’s something he’ll continue to work on. Fortunately for Bryant, there’s still time to hone in more consistency.
Defensive line dominant or offensive line in need of improvement?
A lot of these notes are arbitrary because the whole point of fall practice is to improve, so it’s fair for anyone, offensive line included, to not be at their absolute best yet.
But Missouri’s pass rush was not its greatest asset last season, and it lost its two senior interior linemen. Terry Beckner Jr. and Walter Palmore were the Tigers’ best in 2018, and filling that void is inevitably difficult (even with the imposing Jordan Elliott). So the ease with which the defensive line has gotten to Kelly Bryant sometimes might not inspire a ton of optimism in the offensive line.
There are two holes in particular where there are naturally going to be growing pains; Larry Borom and Hyrin White are both newcomers among the starters, unlike the more experienced trio of Yasir Durant, Trystan Colon-Castillo and Tre’Vour Wallace-Simms. The Tigers are fortunate to have a mobile quarterback in Bryant who can evade tackles, but he’ll need better protection come game week.
Again, though, fall camp is a time for weaknesses to manifest and fix themselves.
Tucker McCann appears to have punter and kicker locked up
Tucker McCann and other kicking candidates often wrap up practices by taking field goals while the entire team crowds around and shouts distractions. McCann has stayed poised and made several long ones under that duress.
McCann appears to be beating out freshman Aaron Rodriguez in the two kicking categories, but Rodriguez might make a worthy heir.
Supervising editor is Melanie Rau.