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University of Tennessee Martin vs University of Missouri football

Missouri's Taylor Powell (left) throws a pass against Tennessee-Martin on Saturday, Sept. 1, 2018, in Columbia, Mo. (Photo by David Carson, dcarson@post-dispatch.com)

COLUMBIA, Mo. — One of the most important job competitions left for the Missouri football team is for a role the Tigers hope they don’t have to use.

Heading into Saturday’s scrimmage, which unlike the last scrimmage will be closed to the media, one of the last unchecked boxes comes at backup quarterback. Kelly Bryant has been the declared starter since he committed to the Tigers in December. For now, like last season and throughout the offseason, coach Barry Odom’s No. 2 is sophomore Taylor Powell.

Lindsey Scott Jr. isn’t ready to concede the race.

If the season kicked off Friday instead of Aug. 31 at Wyoming, Powell would be the first option off the bench, Odom said Thursday.

“But Lindsey the last couple days has made some progress,” Odom said. “So I would hate to say right now . . . I don’t want to eliminate Lindsey from the mix because he’s done some great things. We’re getting to the point both of those guys could go in and efficiently run what we need to try to win a game.”

The only other option is freshman and fourth-stringer Connor Bazelak. Odom is open to playing the rookie in a couple games — the redshirt rule the NCAA created last year allows players to appear in four games without using a year of eligibility — but the staff hasn’t decided on his role for the season.

“We’ll see how that goes and see how he continues to progress,” Odom said. “We’ll have some hard discussions after that practice on Saturday, staff-wise, and see how we want to manage that with the quarterback.”

For now, the backup job is the priority. Powell appeared in six games last season as Drew Lock’s backup, completing six of 14 passes for 134 yards. He knows coordinator Derek Dooley’s offense and has the most Division I game experience, albeit mostly in last year’s opening game against Tennessee-Martin. The Tigers put Powell in charge of the first-team offense for the final couple periods of Thursday’s practice.

“We’ve got to be smart with how we do that,” Odom said, “because we’re a play away from him being the guy.”

Scott began his career at Louisiana State then transferred to East Mississippi Community College, where he led the junior college program to the 2017 national championship. But he was buried on Mizzou’s depth chart last year and wasn’t part of the travel roster for most of the season.

He’s been far more patient and accurate in the pocket since the start of camp and hasn’t looked to scramble at the first sign of distress.

“I feel like in terms of reading defenses and getting the feel for the offense, it’s probably the best I’ve been since I’ve been here,” Scott said. “I feel comfortable every time I touch the field. And I feel I can lead.”

The Tigers have other roster decisions to make before the season kicks off in two weeks, especially when it comes to freshmen. Odom said the team plans to play as many as possible under the redshirt rule, but at least one rookie is all-but certainly in the plans for the entire season, tight end Niko Hea. Injuries have depleted the position’s depth, but the freshman from CBC has earned a role with solid hands and a quick grasp of the offense and his special-teams roles.

“Just the things he’s done from the day he stepped on campus, I’m so impressed with his maturity level with the things he does and the way he can help us in different roles, kicking (game) and at tight end,” Odom said. “He’s a talented guy.”

As for Bazelak, the freshman from Dayton, Ohio, is adjusting to MU’s shotgun spread offense after playing in a run-heavy wishbone attack in high school. (Odom joked earlier in camp that Mizzou would install some Wing T formations to make Bazelak feel at home.) The four-star recruit didn’t pass the ball as much as other high-profile quarterback prospects but through two weeks of camp has shown off an arm suited for Dooley’s offense.

“I would say we did a little of the stuff that we’re doing now in high school, so I was familiar with it in some sorts, and just from watching football and my knowledge of the game,” Bazelak said. “I felt like I was pretty prepared just coming in. I felt pretty comfortable.”

Realistically, Bazelak’s first chance to earn extensive playing time will come in 2020. That’s when former Texas Christian University starter Shawn Robinson becomes eligible after he sits out the upcoming season. That competition will arrive soon enough.

“I would say I thought about (2020) more before fall camp,” Bazelak said. “But now I’m just kind of going practice by practice and living in the present.”

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