It was a fall camp in name only this morning at the Missouri Athletic Training Facility outdoor fields where it was a sweltering 84 degrees at the start of practice, and it only got hotter as time wore on. Still, the heat did not faze this Missouri team as they took the field for drills and a light scrimmage.
The session began with some high-energy stretching and quickly transitioned into pressure kicking scenarios for Harrison Mevis (who converted 3 of his 4 field goal attempts).
The live scrimmage saw explosive plays early on. Connor Bazelak completed a 60-yard TD pass to freshman Dominic Lovett, a great sign for this offense as the highly-touted recruit is proving he can be a weapon in this offense as soon as this season.
The second string came in and followed suit, as redshirt freshman running back Michael Cox busted a stretch play for a long touchdown run.
However, the defense stepped up after that. The tackling that plagued them early on improved and the offenses were unable to manufacture many more productive drives.
Personally, watching this team out on the field for the first time this season, some things stood out to me. Redshirt junior Bobby Lawrence is one of the few human beings that could make the rest of the team look small, as his 6’9” frame is impressive to take in in-person. On the opposite side, the listed 5’8” for Mookie Cooper may be generous. He looks smaller than expected in comparison to the rest of the WR corps, but his muscular build and speed certainly makes up for what he lacks in size.
In my eyes, one of Connor Bazelak’s biggest strengths is his placement. There were multiple balls dropped right in the receivers’ hands from tough angles during this scrimmage, although he was hurt by drops in many of those instances. After a full offseason, Bazelak looks more and more like a quarterback ready to become a household name.
With Tyler Badie not participating in the scrimmage today, Elijah Young and Dawson Downing received the majority of reps with the first team. They showed out on the third possession of the scrimmage, as Downing caught two passes to move down the field until Young ran in a short pass for a touchdown to cap the drive.
In the press conference following practice. Eli Drinkwitz provided injury updates. Linebacker Chad Bailey will return on Friday, while wide receiver Micah Wilson returned to practice today.
The freshman physicals saw some unfortunate news. Defensive back Zxaequan “Snoop” Reeves will be out until mid-season with a lower leg injury, defensive lineman Jonathan Jones will be out for the season with a discovered medical issue, and, due to undisclosed health findings, offensive lineman J’Marion Gooch will not be playing football for Missouri. Whether that will be the case for this year only or permanently was unaddressed but it seems safe to say we won’t see Mr. Gooch in the Black & Gold in 2021.
In terms of his thoughts on the scrimmage, Drinkwitz saw good things from both sides of the ball. The explosive plays from the offense were a great sign, and the defense shored up as time wore on. Still, the second-year coach cited improved tackling and getting pressure on the quarterback as areas that need to be improved upon.
A major talking point of the day was how senior defensive linemen Kobie Whiteside talked to the team last night. Drinkwitz, as well as offensive linemen Xavier Delgado and Luke Griffin, explained Whiteside’s message of staying in the moment and having the right mindset throughout this season. Drinkwitz really dove into how proud he is to have Whiteside on this team and how much the veteran means to everyone. As a senior and one of the premier defenders on this team, it is clear that Whiteside has stepped up to become one of the voices of the locker room.
Speaking of leadership, another hot topic is how Connor Bazelak has fared with a full offseason as the starting quarterback. The redshirt sophomore is much more comfortable within the offense, explaining, “I don’t have to worry about a QB competition during camp, I can focus on leading my guys and growing.” Delgado and Griffin both agreed that most of the time Bazelak is right in general, and that when he is wrong, he is always asking plenty of questions.
And lastly, Drinkwitz and the players pointed out a couple of newer faces that have stepped up and impressed during camp. Delgado and Griffin emphasized how redshirt junior Javon Foster and freshman Connor Tollison have been putting in a ton of extra work in the film room and on the field, and both have excelled when given opportunities with the first-string. According to Griffin, Tollison is a major stickler for technique and is set to be a great player for Missouri someday thanks to his work ethic and commitment.
Connor Bazelak discussed how the younger pass-catchers have been performing, giving credit to Dominic Lovett and redshirt freshman Chance Luper. Luper especially stood out to me during the scrimmage, as he has a rangy frame but glides down the field with long strides. He was making plenty of plays with the first-stringers during the scrimmage and people have been taking notice. Drinkwitz also pointed out that the redshirted wide receivers from last season have been taking advantage of increased opportunities and are making a strong push for playing time.