When looking at Missouri quarterback Kelly Bryant’s top targets on the roster, there’s clearly a lot of experience to go around.
Johnathan Nance, a graduate transfer, is among the eldest of the bunch and should get a hefty amount of opportunities out wide. Johnathon Johnson, a senior slot receiver, is on the cusp of cracking the Tigers’ top five in career receiving yards and — with an all-time senior season — could take over first place.
And then there’s Albert Okwuegbunam, consistently ranked among the top tight ends in the country and a potential high pick in next year’s NFL draft if he proves he can stay healthy and can thrive as one of the top options in a powerful offense.
So yes, Bryant has a plethora of experienced hands to throw to in the starting lineup, but it’s the depth of the receiving corps where the youth movement has taken shape.
And leading that youth movement is sophomore wideout Jalen Knox.
Knox, one of the many freshmen who saw time at receiver in 2018, has become the face of this young group of receivers ever since he took over for Emanuel Hall last year. At first, Knox was the replacement for Hall — who missed time due to a groin injury and the death of his father — because he displayed the same type of speed that made Hall a deep threat.
But all Knox needed was a chance, and with that chance, he ended up leading all freshmen on the team with 419 receiving yards. Knox, though, wasn’t necessarily expecting to put up those numbers as a freshman.
Had it not been for Hall missing a large chunk of the season, Knox may not have gotten the opportunities he did early on. He wanted the chance to show what he could do, but he assumed he’d have to wait his turn. Knowing the way his last season turned out, though, Knox said he’s taking a new approach to his preseason preparation.
“I’m much more prepared (for this season). Last year, I really wasn’t trying to be too worried about the season. I was just taking it day by day, and just doing whatever,” Knox said. “But now, I’m actually preparing myself to be in those situations where I’m needed.”
Now that he’s among the grizzled veterans on the offense, Knox is more sure of what he brings to the game. He said that he had never played out wide for this long throughout his life, but now that he’s got a year under his belt, he already feels like a natural at the spot.
“Jalen Knox as a sophomore is much more confident, using his abilities and what he can do on the field,” Knox said. “He knows the offense better and just has a better understanding of how college football works.”
His teammates get a first-hand look at this new level of confidence, and they see the areas where he might be bringing it even more.
“Jalen has gotten a lot stronger, physically and mentally,” receiver Dominic Gicinto said. “He’s faster than he was last year, which is saying a lot since he was probably one of the fastest people on our team last year. Mentally, he knows the defense better now. He can break down the defense. He can do things that other people can’t, and he’s stepped up a lot.”
Even with the number of incoming sophomore receivers who proved to be reliable in 2018 — including Gicinto, Kam Scott and Barrett Banister — Knox is the one who is listed as a starter on the Tigers’ depth chart.
No longer the guy who’s just taking Hall’s spot for the time being, Knox is out to turn a breakout first year into a prodigious sequel.
Massey’s got next?
Maurice Massey made the play of the day Monday, making a one-handed grab before barely getting his left foot down in the back of the end zone.
Massey was one of the latest arrivals this summer, but he’s made a series of highlight reel plays that have his teammates raving.
“We feel like Maurice is going to be a great player moving forward,” Knox said. “He didn’t get here until like the end of the summer, so he’s just now getting here and he’s already making plays like that.”
“We’re used to, coming from him now, those are the type catches we’re used to him making,” he added.
With his 6-foot-3, 180-pound frame and ability at receiver, Massey is already a candidate to be the next breakout freshman. Offensive coordinator Derek Dooley showed he was comfortable using true freshmen last season, and if Massey keeps developing as quickly as he has to start fall camp, he should be one of the names Dooley considers come game time.
Missouri’s top two options at tight end, Okwuegbunam and Daniel Parker, were both in red jerseys Monday, which left Brendan Scales to take reps with the ones.
Tyree Gillespie saw some action Monday but was out for live drills due to the hip injury he suffered last week, and Trajan Jeffcoat remained out of action with a sprained elbow.
There were some positives in terms of injuries, though, as both Johnathon Johnson (foot) and Jalani Williams (dental work) were back on the field.