Football is back. Sort of.
No, the season is not around the corner quite yet, but the start of spring camp marks the next meaningful step toward that opening Saturday in September. Missouri will do just that Tuesday when it opens its 15-practice 2018 spring training camp, which will conclude on April 14 with the annual Black & Gold Game.
With the return of senior quarterback Drew Lock and a pair of proven talents in Damarea Crockett and Larry Rountree III in the backfield, the biggest questions surrounding the Tigers’ offense come not on the field but instead on the sideline with first-year offensive coordinator Derek Dooley.
The former Tennessee head coach joined Missouri’s staff in January following five years spent with the Dallas Cowboys and is now tasked with taking over an offense that finished eighth in total offense in 2017. In his introductory press conference on Jan. 12, Dooley was vague when asked what sort of system his offense would run but hinted that it will likely feature a mix of several different schemes.
“I think there will be elements of the pro style and elements of the college tempo ... and some spread,” Dooley said. “What we’ve got to do is make sure that we have a good feeling for who our best players are, how we can put them in positions to succeed, and go from there.”
Given the recent success of Missouri’s offenses and the offensive talent remaining on the Tigers’ roster, Dooley will be graded on a pretty unforgiving curve next fall.
Further unknowns lie on the defensive side of the ball. After an encouraging second half of the season that saw the Tigers’ defense improve significantly, Missouri enters 2018 without a number of the key cogs that kept the defense afloat.
After losing safety Anthony Sherrils and defensive linemen Marcell Frazier and Jordan Harold to graduation, along with redshirt senior safety Kaleb Prewett to an indefinite suspension, the Tigers have lots of production to replace.
These departures leave ample opportunity for new stalwarts to emerge, but Missouri’s current roster makeup offers up few exciting names to fill in.
Prewett and Sherrils were responsible for stabilizing a shaky secondary in 2017, and without them the back end of the defense appears to be the Tigers’ weakest spot headed into spring camp. Senior Cam Hilton and redshirt junior Ronnell Perkins each received playing time last season but have yet to prove themselves as reliable options at safety. Graduate transfer Khalil Oliver and redshirt sophomore Christian Holmes will also get a shot at the position but, like Hilton and Perkins, will have to show that they can lead a secondary.
On the defensive line, particularly on the edge where Frazier’s talents will be sorely missed, there are holes to be filled as well. The return of senior Terry Beckner Jr. and a strong group of interior linemen will help dim the loss of Harold up the middle, but the end positions will require the emergence of underclassmen.
Redshirt sophomore Tre Williams will likely be called upon to carry the brunt of that load. Williams, who led all returning defensive ends in sacks in 2017, showed flashes of greatness last season and has a chance to become one of Missouri’s next elite pass rushers. Incoming four-star end Daniel Parker Jr., who will not be a part of Missouri’s spring camp, may see early opportunities once he joins the team for fall camp.
Cross returns to TCU
Former Missouri defensive coordinator DeMontie Cross will return to the coaching staff at TCU next fall to serve as the team’s director of personnel, Horned Frogs heads coach Gary Patterson announced Sunday. He will replace Eric Russell, who is rumored to be joining Jimbo Fisher’s staff at Texas A&M.
The return to TCU marks a second stint in Fort Worth, Texas, for the former Tigers free safety. He spent three seasons as a linebackers coach and co-defensive coordinator with the Horned Frogs from 2013-2015 before leaving to join Barry Odom’s staff. Cross was also a member of Missouri’s coaching staff as a graduate assistant and outside linebackers coach from 1998-99.
Cross’ second go-around with the Tigers proved to be a rocky one. In 2016, he was stripped of his play-calling duties seven games into the season by Odom, who took over play-calling and defensive schematics. Cross remained in his position at the beginning of the 2017 season but was relegated to the press box on game days. Two weeks in, following a 31-13 loss the South Carolina, he was fired.
“I am very appreciative of all that DeMontie has done for Mizzou, and am sorry that this did not work out, however, after careful evaluation, I believe it is important to make this change now,” Odom said in a statement at the time.
In addition to his role in personnel, Cross will also serve as a defensive analyst for the team.
Supervising editor is James Patterson.