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'They've got two of my guys': Former Missouri HC Barry Odom reflects on connection between Drew Lock, Albert Okwuegbunam

During Drew Lock's homecoming finale at Missouri, the Tigers scored at will in a 65-33 win over Memphis.

The senior threw four touchdowns that afternoon, and three of the scores went in the direction of sophomore tight end Albert Okwuegbunam. 

Okwuegbunam posted a career high 159 receiving yards and tied his career scoring mark during the homecoming showcase — and he showcased the dynamic element of his connection with Lock.

The three scores that day were just a few of the 17 touchdown passes that Lock and Okwuegbunam combined for during their two years together in Columbia.

And after the Broncos drafted Okwuegbunam in the fourth round of last week's NFL Draft, that connection could be revived in Denver.

The man who stood on the sideline that afternoon in 2018, former Missouri head coach Barry Odom, is among those most excited to see the reunion.

"They always offensively, Albert and Drew, had a connection," Odom told this week. "... For them now to reconnect and be able to lean on each other at that level, I'm so proud of both of them and excited to watch how that develops and continues to grow. They've got an interconnectedness from being together for the years they were on being able to — with body language and the look that Drew can give him on what route they're thinking about, that goes way back. It'll be awesome to see how that continues to build over the next few years in Denver."

Odom, now Arkansas' defensive coordinator, said both Okwuegbunam and Lock showed the ability to maintain that connection despite playing in different offensive systems during their time together at Missouri. Okwuegbunam's unusual combination of 6-foot-5 size with 4.49-second 40-yard dash speed certainly helped. After earning Lock's trust on the practice field, he quickly earned a role in the offense.

As a redshirt freshman, Okwuegbunam caught 29 passes for 415 yards. Eleven of those catches — a whopping 37.9 percent — were for touchdowns.

"Matchup-wise we were going to do as good a job as we could of putting Albert in position because of his size and speed," Odom said. "We were going to try to find the matchup that helped us best. You can make the play call, but then the player goes and executes it. Both of those guys did that at a high level. They had a connected way that they played together. And that carried over from the reps and the habits that they developed in practice and then obviously [they were] skilled [enough] on game day to be able to go execute it."

Okwuegbunam, though, didn't arrive at Missouri as a bulked up 255-pound player. When Missouri recruited the former basketball player, Okwuegbunam was nearly 40 pounds lighter.

"When we recruited him, he was a skilled athlete, but he was really 215 pounds, I think, when he stepped on campus," Odom said. "I remember watching him in a basketball tournament over the Christmas holiday during the recruiting process. He scored 30-something points. And I thought, 'We've got an athlete here, but I don't know how big he can get.'

"But he went and really attacked it and I think developed not only [an understanding of] the playbook but how to run routes and how to get open. There were a number of things we did the first year with him and Josh Heupel as the offensive coordinator. We were playing in space and finding open areas and I think the basketball world really helped Albert in that transition. A number of things went into it, but it all sort of centered back on the way that he worked and continued to understand how to play the position."

Okwuegbunam will have to adjust again as he heads to the Broncos. As he aims to learn a new system and find a place in the offense, Odom said his former tight end will approach coaching points with the right mentality.

"He's very coachable," Odom said. "I know that he will work. If you're giving him a coaching point on things he needs to improve on, that immediately goes to the top of his list. Because he's a great competitor, and he will do everything he can to help that organization win at the highest level."

As the Broncos' 2019 season wound down and Odom settled into his new role as Arkansas' defensive coordinator, he didn't often have a chance to watch his former quarterback lead Denver's offense. He would get reports on his former players, though, and he kept up with the highlights of Denver's surge to end the season.

Then, ahead of the Broncos' regular-season finale, Lock invited Odom to attend Denver's game against the Raiders. Odom watched the game with Lock's parents before spending some time with Lock after the Broncos' season-ending win. 

"It really was a special moment for me, us connecting and me being able to go out there and watch him live and in person that last game against the Raiders," Odom said. "He made some big plays down the stretch. He scrambled on one of the biggest plays of the game. He scrambled and got the first down they needed. He made some clutch throws. He looked comfortable. He was having fun and making throws and making plays and playing within the calls and [doing] the things that I've seen Drew do for a long time. He's just scratching the surface."

When Lock returns to the field again, Odom will have another reason to root for Denver to be successful.

"I'm a huge fan of Drew Lock and obviously of Albert Okwuegbunam and even more so now of the Broncos," Odom said. "They've got two of my guys, and it'll be fun to watch those guys develop and lead to Denver to winning a championship."

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