Broncos Camp Football

Denver Broncos quarterback Drew Lock takes part in stretching drills during a rookie minicamp in Englewood, Colo. (AP Photo)

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The Denver Broncos will hold their first session of full-team OTAs this week, but before the veterans arrived, Drew Lock took part in his first rookie minicamp this past weekend. From the sounds of it, Lock’s first impression on his new coaches was a good one.

There’s no pressure for the second-round draft pick to seize Denver’s starting job anytime soon — new coach Vic Fangio said newly acquired veteran Joe Flacco will take all the first-team reps for the time being — but the spotlight will shine fiercely on Lock for months to come.

So far, so good.

“The one thing I really coveted about a lot of guys in this draft – there were a lot of multi-year starters with a lot of production over their careers and Drew was one of them,” offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello told the Denver Post this weekend. “He had a lot of starts (46). He played a lot of football. That experience in the SEC goes a long way.

“I think he’s a natural arm talent — that was obvious to everybody. As a person and individual, meeting him and getting to know him, all those characteristics, you add up the sum of it, you see a lot of upside and that’s the kind of person you want to invest in.”

We wrote about Lock’s exhaustive college experience before the draft. Lock attempted 1,553 passes in his four years at Mizzou, a huge number compared to other quarterbacks who have entered the league the last few years. Among the first-round selections from 2014-18, only Patrick Mahomes (1,349 passes), Baker Mayfield (1,497) and Jared Goff (1,568) came into the NFL with close to the number of Lock’s college pass attempts. (Pretty good company, eh?) Will all that experience give Lock an advantage once he sees the field against live competition?

Lock will get to keep his No. 3 in Denver, but for now, on the field, a lot of what he’s doing looks different. He didn’t huddle in high school or college and rarely took snaps under center. That’s his world now in an NFL offense, though he’ll see plenty of time in the shotgun. What’s been the biggest adjustment? The new language.

“It’s 10-12 words that can get scrambled up and you have words that rhyme,” Lock told the Denver Post. “It’s definitely different, but it will get fixed. … You have to spit the play out and it’s tougher to do that than actually knowing what the play is. It’s a little adjustment for me, but nothing that saying the plays in the mirror (at the hotel) isn’t going to fix.”

It’s been well documented that Lock played for three coordinators in four years at Mizzou (Josh Henson, Josh Heupel and Derek Dooley) and three quarterback coaches (Andy Hill, Heupel and Dooley), and in Denver he’s making another transition, working with Scangarello and QB coach T.C. McCartney. Who are these guys?

Scangarello is a bit of a mystery. He spent the last two seasons coaching the 49ers quarterbacks, a nondescript cast of passers outside of Jimmy Garoppolo. Other than a year each as a quality control assistant with the Falcons and Raiders, Scangarello has been exclusively a college coach, working at national powerhouse Wagner College, Northern Arizona, Millsaps College UC-Davis, Idaho and Carleton College. McCartney, who just turned 30, has coached with the 49ers and Browns and spent the 2016 season on LSU’s staff but also has a Mizzou connection: He’s the grandson of former Colorado Buffaloes head coach Bill McCartney, who played for the Tigers under Dan Devine.

MPJ FINALLY READY?

Speaking of Denver, the Nuggets were bounced from the NBA playoffs on Sunday … but in the aftermath, their 2018 first-round pick had something to say: Michael Porter Jr. feels great and expects to play soon. Porter essentially took a redshirt season his rookie year in the NBA while recovering from a second back surgery performed shortly after last summer’s draft. But now he expects to play for the Nuggets’ NBA Summer League team in July.

“Going into the season I didn’t expect myself to play at 100 percent if I was going to play,” he told reporters Monday. “The way I feel now it’s leaps and bounds from where I thought I’d be at this point. I feel so good. I work so hard every day with these guys. I feel like I’m a better player than I’ve ever been.”

Sound familiar, Mizzou fans? It should.

Those who rode the MPJ rollercoaster in 2017-18 can surely relate to Nuggets fans who are salivating with the idea of the 20-year-old finally healthy and ready to play.

“I’m doing everything I can. I’m working hard every day,” Porter said back on Feb. 9, 2018. “I’m feeling better every day. … I feel better right now than I’ve ever felt. Like, I feel great.”

Of course, he didn’t play in a game for the Tigers for another four weeks in the SEC tournament. Since winning the Washington high school state championship in March 2017, that 2018 SEC tournament game and the Tigers’ NCAA Tournament loss to Florida State are the only official organized games he’s played. That’s two games in exactly 800 days, not counting all-star games and MU’s exhibition game against Kansas.

Once he joins the Nuggets next season — assuming that actually happens — it’ll be fascinating  to see how Porter becomes part of an established, unselfish core that’s built around playmaking center Nikola Jokic. Porter could thrive as a slashing, 3-point shooting perimeter mismatch — if he conforms to the team’s style.

SOPHIE’S WNBA DEBUT

Sticking with the hardwood, former Mizzou star Sophie Cunningham made her WNBA debut with the Phoenix Mercury on Saturday, scoring 10 points in 22 minutes in the team’s exhibition win over the Los Angeles Sparks. Cunningham made 4 of 6 shots off the bench, hit 2 of 4 from 3-point range, tied for the team lead with three steals and also led the Mercury with five fouls. Cunningham sparked Phoenix’s fourth-quarter rally with back-to-back baskets.

"You don't know what to expect coming in as a rookie, but our vets did a good job of laying the foundation," Cunningham told the Arizona Republic after the win. "They gave us energy, they gave us something to look at to copy. We just went out there and tried to do our part. I think we held our own."

WNBA rookies aren’t guaranteed roster spots, but Cunningham figures to be part of the team’s plans, especially with perennial All-Star Diana Taurasi out 10-12 weeks after undergoing back surgery.

BASEBALL DOWN, FAR FROM OUT

The Missouri baseball team couldn’t pull off the upset in Nashville this past weekend but became the first team in 28 days to take down No. 2 Vanderbilt, beating the Commodores 5-2 on Saturday. With a chance to clinch the series on Sunday, things unraveled on the Tigers in the third inning when Vandy turned a flood of walks and singles into a six-run surge. Vandy won 7-2. In nine SEC series this season, it’s just the third the Tigers haven’t won.

"It was disappointing,” Tigers coach Steve Bieser said. “That wasn't the way we wanted to finish this series. We let a few things go today that aren't acceptable in our program. Early on, we had some baserunners at second base with no one out and weren't able to push some runs across. Those things add up and make a difference in the ball game. We got to bounce back from it."

Another thing Bieser surely didn’t like: His team struck out 13 times.

Here’s the positive: Mizzou’s bullpen kept the Tigers hanging around thanks to scoreless outings from Cameron Dulle and Luke Anderson, who struck out three Commodores in two scoreless innings in his first appearance in an SEC game this year.

“To Luke's credit, he has been sitting there and preparing,” Bieser said. “We talk about this in our program. At some point it may look like your personal season is over, but when you get down the stretch there's going to be a guy on the mound that needs to step up. Those were big innings."

Losing two of three to the SEC powerhouse didn’t cause too much damage in the rankings. The Tigers (34-18-1, 13-13-1 SEC) slipped just a spot to No. 21 in Baseball America’s poll and climbed from 21 to 14 in the NCAA’s RPI. With an RPI that high, it’s not out of the question the Tigers are in the running to serve as one of the 16 regional hosts. Mizzou plans to apply to the NCAA to host one of the four-team regionals, MU confirmed Monday.

Mizzou has one regular-season series left, a three-game homestand against Florida starting Thursday. The Gators are having a rare rough season, coming in at just 10-17 in the SEC.  

Barring a disaster on the home diamond, the Tigers should make their first NCAA regional since 2012 and, with a sweep over Florida and some help around the league, could climb as high as the No. 5 seed in next week’s SEC tournament in Hoover, Ala.

TIGER TALES

All 13 SEC softball teams made the NCAA tournament, including Mizzou, which will make its 13th consecutive appearance in the 64-team bracket. The Tigers were picked to finish last in the SEC under first-year coach Larissa Anderson, then got smacked with NCAA sanctions days before the start of the season. But they’ll head to Los Angeles this week as the No. 2 seed in UCLA’s region, opening play Friday night against No. 3 seed Cal State Fullerton. For making the NCAA field, Anderson earns a bonus equal to 2-percent of her base salary, which amounts to $3,7000. … A couple huge achievements for the Tigers at the SEC outdoor championships over the weekend: Ja’Mari Ward won his second SEC title in the long jump and Gabi Jacobs won her third straight SEC discus title. … Reminder, three-star Alabama forward Kobe Brown plans to announce his college choice on Tuesday. He announced his final four last week: Mizzou, Vanderbilt, Minnesota and Penn State. The 6-7 forward initially signed with Texas A&M last fall but opened his recruitment after the Aggies’ coaching change.


Dave Matter

@dave_matter on Twitter

dmatter@post-dispatch.com

This article originally ran on stltoday.com.

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