We’re closing in on two months since we’ve had any meaningful sports action, which is almost unfathomable when you say it out loud. As a whole, sports are almost a daily occurrence, several billion dollar industries that have lasted through war, politics and everything in between. That they have all been halted in place for the better part of 60 days... again, it’s nigh unspeakable.
However, in the dry, dry desert that is the world of sports right now, college football (and basketball, to be fair) has offered us a refreshing sip of water in the oasis of recruiting.
While all in-person and on-campus visits have been halted (for good reason), coaches are still taking virtual tours, setting up calls with recruits and generally doing everything they can to pitch their schools for a future that has yet to be determined. With the coming months still uncertain, several recruits have seen their commitment process expedited, which has been a boon for the Tigers (football) and a bane for the Tigers (basketball).
While things are slowed down, we’ve decided to take a closer look at ‘crootin strategy, specifically as it relates to Eli Drinkwitz and the 2020 (and beyond) Missouri Tigers. We’re going to split the roster up in four ways: offensive line and quarterbacks; running backs and wide receivers; defensive line and linebackers; and secondary.
We’re starting with the trenches of the offense, an area that’s always a hot button issue in the SEC. Below you’ll find a simple table with the class breakdown of these positions, just to give you a better idea of how Missouri’s roster is currently constructed.
2020 Mizzou Football: Offensive Lineman and Quarterbacks
|Angel Matute (OL)||Daniel Parker Jr. (TE)||Niko Hea (TE)||Brady Cook (QB)|
|Brendan Scales (TE)||Shawn Robinson (QB - RS)||Thalen Robinson (OL)||Drake Heismeyer (OL)|
|Michael Maietti (OL - GT)||Taylor Powell (QB - RS)||Bobby Lawrence (OL - RS)||Mitchell Walters (OL)|
|Hyrin White (OL - RS)||Xavier Delgado (OL - RS)||Dylan Spencer (OL)|
|Case Cook (OL - RS)||Mike Ruth (OL - RS)||Connor Bazelak (QB - RS)|
|Larry Borom (OL - RS)||Javon Foster (OL - RS)||Luke Griffin (OL - RS)|
|Logan Christopherson (TE - RS)||Messiah Swinson (TE - RS)||Jack Buford (OL - RS)|
The OL took a major step back in 2019, and Drinkwitz has responded on the recruiting trail. He brought in three linemen in the 2020 class and has already nabbed an OL and two TE’s in 2021. What does Drinkwitz’s early focus on the OL tell us about his plans for the offense?
Nate Edwards, Football Editor: There’s a lot of assumptions you can glean from this. For starters, it could mean he’s not impressed with what he’s seen so far. It could also mean that, simply, he understands that a competent offensive line is the fuel that the point machine needs to operate successfully. Or, it could just mean that there were three linemen that he really wanted in this recruiting class and that’s how many he wanted to bring in. Odom’s approach to the offensive line was to just recruit the biggest dudes he could get and throw them out on the field. Drinkwitz, on the other hand, might have a more nuanced approach, so he’s bringing in lots of younger guys so he can develop them the way he wants to. If you want to view this as a negative you can; if you want to view this as a positive you absolutely can as well. The question isn’t so much who he’s recruiting as it is who’s starting; that will tell a lot more about Drink’s thoughts on the current OL roster.
Brandon Kiley, Lead Football Writer: I think what taught us the most about how Drink views the current offensive line depth is not what he’s done so far in the ‘20 or ‘21 class, but rather his willingness to take a grad transfer at center.
Taking a grad transfer this quickly suggests Drink understands the lack of quality starters he can count on immediately. The depth seems to be there, but the Tigers lost the majority of their true impact starters after last season. The surprise departure of Trystan Colon-Castillo put things in a rough spot for the immediate future.
Josh Matejka, Deputy Manager: It’s hard to say since he hasn’t coached a game at Missouri yet, but I think Nate nailed it on the head. Odom was all about bulk — just get massive dudes and hope they won’t fall over. While that approach worked when Missouri was running up and down the field with Josh Heupel, it had mixed results with Derek Dooley’s more paced approach. We know Drinkwitz’s offense will be a bit more complex than either of the two, so he’s likely going to take a more tactical approach with the linemen in his system. We’ll know more this fall (hopefully).
Missouri is pretty loaded with QBs on the roster, but that hasn’t stopped Drinkwitz from bringing in Brady Cook in 2020 and scooping up Tyler Macon for 2021. Should fans read into this at all?
Nate Edwards: Fans should not be reading into this. Quarterback is the most important position on the football team. Because of injuries, transfers, or just simply having several good options to go with, every staff in the country needs to take a quarterback in every recruiting class; full stop. That being said, Robinson, Powell, and Bazelak are all Odom leftovers. Cook committed to Odom but was kept by Drinkwitz and Macon is the first QB commit for Drink. So, again, it’s less about who he’s recruiting and who is starting. If (whenever football is being played) we see the freshmen Drinkwitz recruits starting then you’ll have an excellent idea of how he views the current roster.
Brandon Kiley: I think it tells us Drink sees what we all see: A lot of quarterbacks on the roster without much production. Shawn Robinson is a redshirt junior — at best he’ll be at Mizzou for two more seasons. Same goes for Taylor Powell. Connor Bazelak & Brady Cook have a lot of time left, but we have no idea what they can do at this level - and neither does Drink.
Quarterback is unique. You should always over-recruit at a place like Missouri unless you have a guy like Drew Lock, Blaine Gabbert or Chase Daniel. Missouri doesn’t have one of those players right now. So recruit the hell out of the position, and may the best man win the job.
Josh Matejka: I don’t think you can infer too much about the amount of QBs Drink is bringing in. After all, an offensive-minded coach is going to want plenty of options for the most important position on the field. However, I am interested in the spread of guys he’s playing with. You have two dual-threat types (Shawn Robinson on the roster and Tyler Macon on the way), with more than a few traditional pocket passers (Taylor Powell, Connor Bazelak, Brady Cook). More likely than not, this is just a way for Drink to keep his options open, but I do think it’s noteworthy that he isn’t sticking with one “type” of QB yet.
Missouri is pretty well stocked at OL for the next few years, sporting good numbers in all classes. But most of those recruits are holdovers from the Odom era. Do you expect much turnover now that a different offense is in place?
Nate Edwards: There are 15 offensive linemen on the roster, but only three have any starts to their name. The difference between coaching acumen between Derek Dooley and Eli Drinkwtiz is (hopefully) noticeably skewed positively in Drink’s favor. Even so, they’re not running completely different types of offenses (i.e. Dooley wasn’t running the triple and Drink is running an air raid). Linemen splits can vary in different schemes, but for the most part, the role of the linemen in Dooley’s offense will be similar to Drink’s. So if the linemen can run either system, and the majority haven’t started a game yet, I find it hard to see any of them bailing for different program since the opportunity to impress a new staff is already right here.
Brandon Kiley: It will be interesting to see. Mizzou’s offensive line commits under Drink come in at 6-foot-5, 285 pounds, 6-foot-3, 285 pounds and 6-foot-8, 275 pounds. I hate reading too much into any three recruits, but that would seem to indicate Drink values length in his offensive line.
If that’s the case, he’s in luck. Mizzou doesn’t have a single scholarship offensive lineman on the roster under 6-foot-4.
I’m sure there will be departures. There always are under a new staff. Some of that will be a result of the coaches not valuing the current roster the way the former staff did. And some of it will be players preferring to play elsewhere. None of that is abnormal. Thus is life when you have a coaching change.
Josh Matejka: It depends on how you define, “turnover.” Do I think a bunch of guys are going to transfer out of the program? Not really — why bail on the opportunity to show out to a new coach? You’d be doing the same thing in a different program anyway.
On the other hand, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see a line that looks very different than the one we’ve seen in the past few years. As Nate pointed out, the amount of players with starting experience is thin, meaning Drinkwitz will have a blank slate to work with. The names we see on the field may be familiar to those who play close attention, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see a lot of less experienced linemen getting a shot under a different coaching staff who may value different traits.