Drew Lock is a different person than he was two years ago. His hair is shorter, pushed into a mohawk instead of across his forehead. His voice is a little deeper. He’s put on 25 pounds.
This probably lines up with the vision that many had for Lock when he burst onto the scene as Missouri’s quarterback of the future in 2015.
He’s bigger now. He’s more mature, on the field and off.
He’s still got a cannon for an arm.
And now, even with the Southeastern Conference’s biggest offensive line and a budding star at running back in Damarea Crockett, Josh Heupel’s offense is built around — and for — Lock’s skill set.
But there’s a sense that the Tigers aren’t quite getting the best out of Lock. Or, at least, what they hope is the best out of him.
Missouri’s coaches don’t quite say it like that. As one would expect, they’re a little more optimistic.
“I think he and we are close to playing at a high level in conference or out of conference,” offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said on a conference call Monday. … “I believe in him. I believe he’s really close to playing the way he’s capable of and the way that we need him to play.”
There’s two sides to that coin.
The first is Lock’s potential, which cemented itself during a rip-roaring fall camp in 2015 that spun the heads of even seasoned college writers. His poise, reports said, was otherworldly for a freshman.
That potential hasn’t gone away. Lock still shows flashes of a dynamite quarterback.
But only flashes.
His performance last week against South Carolina — 14 of 32, 245 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions — wasn’t a clunker.
It also wasn’t particularly satisfying. The Tigers went 1 for 3 on red-zone opportunities. They scored on one out of six drives in the second half (though, in a less desperate situation, its final drive could have resulted in a field goal).
“I bet he’s upstairs watching film right now would be my guess,” coach Barry Odom said Tuesday. “He doesn’t like the offensive performance from the other night. It’s frustrating to anybody that’s a competitor, and Drew’s one of the great ones on wanting to get it right.”
There’s plenty of room for improvement for Missouri’s passing game, even very soon.
The most immediate is for the Tigers to get rid of their persistent drops. Missouri receivers dropped five passes last week. Some were more head-scratching than others, but all were catchable.
If those passes are caught, Lock’s completion percentage goes from 43.7 to 59.3. He probably goes over 300 yards. He definitely gets another touchdown — the last drop was by Johnathon Johnson in the end zone, Missouri’s final offensive play.
“Really frustrating,” Odom said, adding that it was “a really solid fall camp in those regards.”
“Leading up to the first game was really solid,” he continued, “and even in practice we didn’t have a day like that. Not one day. For that to show up on Saturday was …, yeah, that’s frustrating.”
The Tigers have also lauded their trio of tight ends — Jason Reese, Kendall Blanton and Albert Okwegbunam — but their usage hasn’t equaled the hype.
Lock targeted tight ends six times against South Carolina, 11 times fewer than he targeted outside receivers. On those six throws, he was 2 for 6 with a touchdown and an interception.
Reese was the only one that registered a catch, hauling in two for 88 yards. One catch went for a 61-yard touchdown.
His position coach saw his big moment coming.
“Since the last game against Arkansas, he changed his mind. He decided he’s going to be a great football player,” tight ends coach Joe Jon Finley said. … “Now he’s mad at himself because it took him this long to figure it out.”
Ideally, the tight ends’ biggest impact would be in the red zone, where Missouri has consistently struggled under Heupel’s hyperspeed offense. Last year, it scored on 74.5 percent of its red-zone opportunities, which ranked 119th in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
Missouri’s huge tight ends have the potential to be red-zone specialists. Reese is the smallest at 6-foot-5, 250 pounds. The Tigers enter each week with different red-zone game plans, but tight ends might become more of a factor going forward.
In the red zone, Finley said, “speed doesn’t matter any more. It’s all about size and body position. We got three guys who are as big as any tight end in the NFL. They can all catch the ball. They’re all athletic. We’re trying to utilize those guys.”
The final area of improvement is the most ambiguous. Lock still has to improve at reading defenses.
His first interception against South Carolina, for example, was because of a misread on the safety.
“It ended up being the basic covers, but the way they got there was different, so to say,” Lock said. “My pick, after looking at it, they definitely got me on that one.”
Missouri also went into the game looking to get their inside receivers involved, but the Gamecocks started using linebackers to double them up. The Tigers’ passing attack never got off the ground.
That’s not just on Lock. But there’s belief in the coaching staff that he’ll reach that vaunted potential soon.
“I think — it’s gonna sound hard to believe because of the completion percentage — there were a lot of things that he did inside of the pocket that were actually a lot better than Week 1,” Heupel said, summing up Lock’s Week 2 performance. “You’ve got to take those, build on them and then we’ve obviously got to be able to throw and catch it at a higher level than we did last week.”