By James Ogletree
Special to The Tuscaloosa News

ATLANTA – Since Dec. 27, when the Missouri Tigers lost their bowl game to Texas, the college football world has wondered what Tigers quarterback Drew Lock could do for an encore in 2018.

The junior from Columbia, Missouri, put up video-game numbers last season in his third year with his hometown team. He led Division I with 44 passing touchdowns, one more than Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield, and the most in SEC history. Along the way, his stature, arm strength and deep-ball accuracy caught the eyes of National Football League evaluators enough that he faced the decision of whether to declare for the draft or return for his senior season.

He chose the latter, despite draft analyst Lance Zierlein comparing Lock’s physical talents to those of former No. 1 overall pick Matthew Stafford.

“He’s as physically talented of a quarterback as there is in the country,” Mizzou head coach Barry Odom said Wednesday at SEC Media Days. “I’m really happy he’s my quarterback and our quarterback.”

However, scouts have said Lock also shares Stafford’s gunslinger mentality that results in some questionable decisions and Missouri’s offense did not help him prepare for the complexity of NFL schemes. Lock agreed.

“I wanted to be able to speak to NFL teams on a higher level than I thought I’d be able to speak to them at that time,” Lock said. “There’s a lot more to football than deep balls and posts.”

That’s where new offensive coordinator Derek Dooley, the former head coach at Tennessee who has spent six years as an NFL assistant, comes in. He has installed an offense with more “NFL lingo,” which Lock believes will sharpen his fundamentals and understanding of the pro game, elements that will be tested when the Tigers travel to Bryant-Denny Stadium on Oct. 13.

“There are universal plays that NFL teams run that if you showed an NFL quarterback this play,” Lock said, “they’d know exactly how you want them to read it. I want to be able to have that mentality going into it that I know what I need to know.”

Dooley has been working with Lock on his footwork and timing with receivers. He has also grown more comfortable with changing plays at the line of scrimmage.

“He’s grown so much in football IQ since January,” Odom said. “Things have slowed down for him a great deal. So take that combined with the physical set that he’s got; he’s got a chance of having a special year.”