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Mizzou football’s freshmen aren’t as far behind as you might think

Less practice time means fewer opportunities for young players, right? Not in Eli Drinkwitz’s eyes.

AutoZone Liberty Bowl - Missouri v Oklahoma State Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Fewer practices in the fall means fewer opportunities for freshmen to adjust to the college game. That’s what I thought going into Thursday, at least.

I’m having second thoughts about that hypothesis.

My day job is hosting “Rivs & BK” on 101 ESPN in St. Louis. Mizzou football coach Eli Drinkwitz joined us Thursday to discuss his recruiting success, his team’s preparation for the season and, naturally, grilling.

I asked Drinkwitz about the adjustment for freshmen, and whether it could be a lost year for the kids who arrived on campus without much of a fall camp. He disagreed with the premise of the question.

“I actually think it might be easier,“ Drinkwitz said. “We didn’t have the spring so they’re actually starting on the exact same footing as anybody else.”

Well, that’s interesting. And something I frankly hadn’t really considered. It makes a lot of sense. Sure, the freshmen didn’t have the long runway to learn the playbook this fall. But neither did the upperclassmen. If this was a returning staff, maybe things would be different. But given the new staff and new scheme, the entire team finds itself in the same boat.

Everyone has to adjust accordingly, including the coaching staff.

“I think this year as much as anything it’s going to come down to natural talent and god-given ability to play the game at a high level,” Drinkwitz said. “As a coaching staff, we have to make sure we don’t slow down our players with the schemes so we allow our guys to play as fast as they can... Whether it’s freshmen or seniors, there are no sacred cows. They’re all ready to play. They’re all going to compete and start fresh.”

I like hearing that. As the saying goes, the proof will be in the pudding. It’s easy to say in late July there are no sacred cows and it will be talent over age. Do the nice quotes actually manifest on the field? That obviously remains to be seen.

But there is one player in particular that I would keep my eyes on. As Drinkwitz spoke about the offense, he brought up one freshman unprompted.

“Larry (Rountree) is a very talented player who has a lot of yards in this league. Tyler Badie is one of those explosive guys. And we’re excited about our young guy Elijah (Young) who can do his thing with the ball in his hands,” Drinkwitz said.

Mentioning Young in particular doesn’t feel like an accident to me. He was - for my money - the crown jewel of Mizzou’s 2020 recruiting class. When we were asked earlier this spring which freshman would have the greatest impact this season, I went with Young. Running back is typically a spot where skills translate quickly from high school to the college game. Young’s talent is also pretty undeniable.

And now we’ve heard the coach bring up Young - unprompted - after Rountree and Badie. Maybe I’m reading too much into the comment, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Young serve as the third running back this season.

If the coach’s message is any indication, Young won’t be alone. Keep an eye on these freshmen. They’ve got a real chance to play.