COLUMBIA, Mo. — Now in the second week of spring training, Missouri’s offensive coach and a few select offensive players met with local media Wednesday at the team complex, including newly hired offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Kirby Moore. Here are five takeaways from Wednesday’s interviews…
1. Don’t sleep on Garcia’s legs: While Brady Cook recovers from shoulder surgery and Sam Horn and his strained forearm gradually return to a full shooting schedule, Jake Garcia is the only fully healthy grantee quarterback on the roster. Horn takes snaps at practice, along with favorite walk-on/junior college transfer Dylan Laible, but Spring gave Moore an in-depth look at Garcia, the Miami transfer.
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“I think he did a really good job in terms of playing lengthening,” Moore said. “His eyes are in the right place. I thought he did a really good job in terms of the live situations, especially on Saturday.”
Garcia’s playing experience in Miami last fall doesn’t provide the largest sample size, but the numbers suggest he’s not a big runner outside the pocket. He finished seven of the eight games he played for the Hurricanes with zero or negative rushing yards. Per Football Focus, Garcia credited just three rushing attempts for 50 yards, 43 of which came on unscripted scrambles. He was fired 15 times and fumbled five times. For the relay, he got 2.55 seconds to throw per dropback. Cook, Mizzou’s starter in every game last season, had 2.67 seconds to throw per dropback behind blocking, which earned him 27 sacks.
So is Garcia a stiff in the bag or a better runner who was behind a bad Miami O-Line?
“Jake is elusive in the pocket. He can extend plays,” Moore said. “I think some of those opportunities he had in Miami played a little bit from behind so you could force things. But I was impressed every day by his preparation and work ethic.”
On Horn and his pitching throwback, Moore said: “Unique situation but he’s making the most of it and doing a really good job in terms of the classroom and the things he can do on the field.”
About Cook: “He brings a leadership component to offense every day and keeps the energy there. In terms of the quarterback room, he sees things from a slightly different perspective since he’s behind and doing the mental reps and still communicating with the other guys that aren’t (on the field) in terms of what he sees.
2. Underestimate Cody Schrader at your peril: Schrader, the frivolous Division I transfer, became Mizzou’s feel-good story of 2022 as he earned the starting job in traffic jams and then finished as MU’s leading rusher with 744 yards and nine touchdowns. Staff have high expectations for redshirt newcomer Tavorus Jones, and Nate Peat is back after his midseason demotion, but Schrader, who is now on a scholarship, is hardly an afterthought.
“He refuses to let anyone surpass him,” said running backs coach Curtis Luper. “So you’d better be talented and work that hard to beat him.”
The staff had two goals for Schrader this offseason: First, to become an outspoken leader, not just on offense but for the team as a whole. Second, you’ll become a more productive runner after contact. Luper pointed out that Schrader’s post-contact yards — 2.88 per attempt, measured by PFF — were last in the SEC.
“I think one of my biggest goals is not getting attacked by the first person,” Schrader said. “When you get through in the first person, more yards come from there, especially if you’re playing in the SEC. The defense is so detailed and what they do and how they structure their defense, they are always in the right position at the right time.”
3. Peat is back and has something to prove: Nate Peat’s role vanished after his costly overtime mistake at Auburn, coupled with a potentially costly fumble against Vanderbilt. He only carried the ball 13 times in the last five games of the season. Attending the team’s Senior Day ceremony, it was easy to deduce that he would not be returning in his final year of eligibility.
“Nate had a decision to make and he decided to come back,” Luper said. “Well, wasn’t much thought, maybe a week or so. I think he feels like he has work to do. If you go back to the Auburn game and the Florida game, he played really well. I think he had 120 yards in both games. I told him he was on his way to being SEC Offensive Player of the Week at Auburn. Then he had, well, it wasn’t fumbling. He just extended the ball. It’s a fumble on paper. But it wasn’t knocked out. So I think it took a couple of weeks for him to get over that. From what you hear and what you see on social media…they hear a lot when they’re not playing well. They hear a lot when they play well, so maybe they shouldn’t hear it. But Nate has a lot to prove. And he’s done really well this spring.”
So good he can go back to the guy who rushed 227 yards against Auburn and Florida?
“He played really well,” said Luper. “And I feel like we have two guys who can run 1,000 meters in those two.”
“Maybe we have three,” he said.
4. O-Lineman on the go: Newly added offensive lineman Marcellus Johnson played more than 1,300 snaps over the last three seasons in Eastern Michigan — each of them in left tackles. He plays right tackle for the Tigers – and gets first-team work this spring – but that move is easier said than done. For Johnson, spring and summer is about “getting out of your comfort zone,” said Mizzou O-Line coach Marcus Johnson.
“That doesn’t happen in five exercises,” said Marcus Johnson. “It has to be an ongoing thing. Of course we’re worried about the Spring Ball and today, but it’s going to be a process. And once the Spring Ball is over, we’ll attack this thing in April, May, June, July, and August.
“For me, it’s no different than (former lineman) Zeke Powell. He’d been on the left if you remember, his first few years. Then we were forced to move him to the right flank with Hyrin Whites (injury). This will need time. I remember watching it with Zeke last year when we were at the Spring Ball. You could tell he wasn’t feeling very well. But I think the work during the spring, summer and fall camps helped him. When we fell he was ready to cut it loose.”
With Johnson on the left tackle, Armand Membou has focused on playing right protection with the first unit after playing mostly tackles last season. At center Bence Polgar is back after being out last year, but he has to unseat returning starter Connor Tollison. The Tigers are on the left with a few holed-up sixth years: tackle Javon Foster and guard Xavier Delgado
5. The O-Line doesn’t sugarcoat last year: You weren’t good enough. From tackle-to-tackle to positional coach, there’s no shortage of accountability in this group.
“Honestly, we had too many TFLs (tackles for loss) last year,” said Marcus Johnson. “It’s on us. You know it’s ours, it always starts in the trenches, especially in this league.
“I feel like I can do a lot better,” Foster said. “Definitely. As a unit I just felt like I was letting the whole line down. We took so many penalties. It just killed us as an insult. I feel like we want to do a much better job this year. “
But despite some difficulties over the past year, the team has only added one experienced O-lineman through the portal. That doesn’t mean employees are done looking for backup.
“We’ve got a couple of guys, but it’s not over until it’s over,” Johnson said. “I mean, especially with this whole portal thing. You never know who’s going, who’s coming and all that. So we will do everything in our power if we feel there is someone who can help this program in certain areas. We are betting everything on this young man.”