Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz wants Tigers to 'establish a new edge' in spring camp
A year ago, as Eli Drinkwitz reached the three-month mark at the helm of Missouri football, the new head coach got all of three spring practices to work with.
The coronavirus pandemic then shut down the sports world for months.
"We've always known how important spring football was for individual player development and understanding your strengths and weaknesses," Drinkwitz said this week ahead of Friday's start of 2021 spring camp. "But you also understand that your team is still going to be evolving. You're going to be adding freshmen in and there's going to be things that you don't anticipate happening."
That's part of the reason Drinkwitz has outlined three goals for this spring: individual player development; setting the foundation of offense, defense and special teams; and perhaps most importantly, developing team chemistry and camaraderie.
"We're establishing a new edge for who we are and what we're trying to create this coming season and embrace the challenges and changes that have occurred and realize that everything starts over," Drinkwitz said. "Nothing that we accomplished last year — other than the confidence that we have in what we're doing will work — is going to affect what we're wanting to do this year."
Despite limited time together before the start of fall camp and an ever-changing schedule, the Tigers went 5-5 in Drinkwitz's first season in Columbia, with four of those defeats coming to teams ranked No. 14 or higher on the day of the matchup.
Missouri would have competed in the Music City Bowl in December, but had to pull out of the event because of COVID-19 concerns.
While the team lost several key players from last year's roster such as linebacker Nick Bolton, running back Larry Rountree and the safety duo of Tyree Gillespie and Joshuah Bledsoe, the Tigers have plenty of integral pieces coming back to Columbia.
Quarterback Connor Bazelak, the Southeastern Conference co-freshman of the year, gets his first taste of spring football. Last spring, he was recovering from knee surgery.
"The first thing we have to improve on is our ball security in the pocket," Drinkwitz said of Bazelak. "The second thing we need to improve upon is our ability to throw touchdowns in the red zone and be a more productive player in the red area. And then the third thing I want to see from him is be aggressive. I don't want to see him be reckless, but I want to see him be aggressive this spring."
Running back Tyler Badie, offensive linemen Case Cook and Mike Maietti, and receivers Jalen Knox and Keke Chism are returning for the offense as well.
Defensively, Drinkwitz will turn to Devin Nicholson, Martez Manuel and Jarvis Ware to take on larger leadership roles, while Steve Wilks gets his hands on the Tigers in his new role of defensive coordinator.
Missouri's other two full-time assistant coach changes took place on defense, with Jethro Franklin and Aaron Fletcher replacing Brick Haley and David Gibbs, respectively.
Out for the spring will be defensive tackle Kobie Whiteside, defensive lineman Jatorian Hansford, linebacker Cameron Wilkins and defensive back Jalani Williams, who are all recovering from various injuries.
Missouri's spring game is scheduled for March 20, earlier than previous years. Including the spring game, the Tigers have 14 practices from Feb. 26 to March 26.
"I've never really enjoyed where you go practice for seven, eight practices, then you break and then you come back," Drinkwitz said. "If we're going to get out there, let's get our mind on our business. Let's go four weeks. Let's make sure we're improving every day and it's going to be a grind."
MU picks up Class of 2021 commit
Missouri secured the commitment of J'Marion Gooch, a 6-foot-8, 360-pound offensive tackle, on Wednesday night.
Gooch signed with Tennessee in December, but was released from his letter of intent after the Volunteers changed head coaches.
Before committing to Tennessee, Gooch was verbally committed to Auburn.
Gooch is a three-star prospect from Gallatin, Tennessee, and held nearly 30 FBS offers from schools such as Georgia, Oregon and USC.
Contact Eric Blum at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @ByEricBlum on Twitter.
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