“Nothing is given, everything is earned,” was the message from Head Coach Eli Drinkwitz to his team on the first day of practice.
Drinkwitz, who is starting his second season at the helm of the Missouri Tigers football team, said the goals for this spring camp are clear. “If we can get better from day one to day two, then we’ve got a chance to have a good spring,” he said.
After only getting in three spring practices last year before students were sent home due to COVID-19, Drinkwitz said he has a different perspective on this year saying, “I don’t take any day for granted, I don’t take any practice for granted.” He also added that his focus for this year’s camp is not necessarily to finish any position battles, but to get better as a team. “For us,” he said, “the competition will occur in fall camp.”
The obvious question coming into this year’s camp will be how will the 2021 Tigers replace the production of Larry Rountree III. The most obvious choice would be to make Tyler Badie the feature back, but Coach Drinkwitz isn’t ruling out any options.
“You don’t replace a Larry Rountree,” Drinkwitz said. “Obviously, we feel good about what Tyler Badie can do, but we are looking for growth from other people in that room, too.”
Speaking of Badie, he seemed very ready for whatever role this season will present to him.
“I’ll do anything the coaches want me to do,” Badie said. “I’m ready to take over from what Larry left,” he said before adding, “My mentality definitely switched… Now my mentality is I know I can compete in this league, and I know I can be the best running back in this conference.”
With Rountree leaving, that also means that Connor Bazelak is the new leader of the Tigers’ offense and it looks like he already has the respect of his teammates.
“When I look at Connor, I see a guy who has taken full control. He’s a confident guy and he has great leadership. He has definitely taken this team under his control. We are going to go as far as he carries us,” WR Keke Chism said.
Likewise, Bazelak said his teammates are already looking at him differently now that he has a full year under his belt. “I think [they look at me differently] for sure,” he said. “They know that I can perform, and they know I can produce.”
While Bazelak is the new leader on offense, the Tigers’ defense lost all three of their defensive leaders to the NFL draft, but Martez Manuel believes he can fill those shoes from last year.
“I’ve kinda taken it upon myself to step into a leadership role… I actually told some young guys today that if they have any questions about the playbook they should come to me,” said the soon-to-be junior Safety.
Manuel also mentioned an interaction with Nick Bolton that shifted his mindset towards leadership this year. “Before the bowl game, Nick Bolton told me, ‘Hey this team is going to need a leader next year, it’s your decision if you’re going to step up and take that role on.’ I fully embraced that responsibility, and want to lead one of the best defenses in the SEC.”
The Martez Manuel-led Tiger defense will certainly be a unit to watch as new Defensive Coordinator Steve Wilks aims to implement his system before the start of the season in the fall. Although he doesn’t know the system fully yet, Manuel was complimentary of his limited exposure to his new DC.