Whether it’s been announced or not, the reality is the vast majority of the staring positions have already been determined by the coaching staff. They might not say it publicly, but we all know it’s true. Nathaniel Peat is going to be the starting running back. Chad Bailey and Ty’Ron Hopper are going to star at linebacker. Luther Burden is going to be a starting wide receiver.
That doesn’t mean everything is settled by the end of spring ball, though. Not by a long shot. There are plenty of positions still up for grabs. Some will be won by incoming freshmen, some will see veterans step up throughout summer workouts and into fall camp. All of them are worthy of keeping an eye on.
What are the most intriguing positions battles to watch as we enter the summer months? Let’s take a look.
5) Tight End:
Contenders: Ryan Hoerstkamp, Tyler Stephens & Max Whisner
You already know I’m ready to put on my cape for THE HORSE, but the only player in this trio with significant division one snaps under his belt is Tyler Stephens. It shouldn’t surprise any of us if that’s enough for Stephens to have the inside track for the starting gig.
That said, Drinkwitz’s offense lines up in “12 personnel” (one running back, two tight ends) a fair amount and short yardage situations can call for as many as three tight ends, so all three contenders are likely to see a decent amount of playing time this year. The real intrigue is in which player steps up - if any - as a legitimate threat in the passing game.
4) Depth Pass Rushers
DE - Tyrone Hopper, D.J. Coleman, Daniel Robledo, Johnny Walker, Travion Ford, Arden Walker, DJ Wesolak
DT - Kyran Montgomery, Marquis Gracial
If it feels like I just listed the entire defensive line, it’s because I more or less did. I’m not sure there’s any position that seems less “settled” than defensive line. It’s no coincidence that’s also the position that underwent the most significant face lift throughout the offseason. Incoming transfers Tyrone Hopper (North Carolina) and D.J. Coleman (Jacksonville State), will almost certainly factor into the mix. It shouldn’t come as a surprise if incoming freshmen blue chip recruits Marquis Gracial (St. Charles High School) and DJ Wesolak (Boonville) factor into the mix.
But what about the holdovers? Where do The Walkers, Ford, Montgomery and Robledo fit into the mix?
There’s no doubt Trajan Jeffcoat, Isaiah McGuire, Darius Robinson, Jayden Jernigan and Josh Landry will be featured members of the defensive line rotation. It’s very much up in the air who will join them as the depth pieces, especially in obvious pass rush situations.
3) Interior Offensive Line:
Contenders: Connor Wood, Xavier Delgado, Connor Tollison, Bence Polgar & Luke Griffin
My expectation coming into fall camp is the starting interior along the offensive line will be Connor Wood and Xavier Delgado at offensive guard with Bence Polgar at center. But that’s not necessarily how it’ll finish. Missouri has shown a willingness to move pieces along the offensive line to get their “best five” instead of pigeonholing players at specific positions.
The players who could make things interesting are Connor Tollison and Luke Griffin. It’s also worth monitoring the health of Hyrin White. White missed spring ball with what was labeled as a lower leg injury. If he’s still bothered by injuries, we could see Wood kick out to offensive tackle with Delgado and Griffin/Tollison at guard and Polgar at center. There are a lot of potential combinations Missouri could consider, but this is one of the more intriguing position battles worth monitoring.
2) The entire secondary?
CB - Ennis Rakestraw, DJ Jackson, Kris Abrams-Draine, Les “LJ” Hewitt, Dreyden Norwood, Marcus Scott II
Safety - Joseph Charleston, Jaylon Carlies, Martez Manuel, Daylan Carnell
Here’s a fun (?) exercise for you to do at home. Write down Mizzou’s starting secondary when the team lines up in nickel, as they do the vast majority of the time. Now write down the “next man up” at each position.
I sure don’t.
At cornerback, Ennis Rakestraw is coming off a season-ending injury. DJ Jackson showed flashes, but is he ready to be a full-time starter? Dreyden Norwood and Marcus Scott II are complete unknowns. Can Daylan Carnell play corner, or is he going to transition to safety? Was LJ Hewitt brought in from JUCO to start right away? There seem to be more unknown than known commodities.
Safety is a little different. The top three are almost assuredly going to be Jaylon Carlies, Martez Manuel and Joseph Charleston. But who is the “next man up?” That’s what fall camp should be able to determine.
Contenders: Brady Cook, Jack Abraham & Sam Horn
It’s the headline story for a reason. My personal opinion is Cook should go into fall camp as the favorite to start this season. He looked like a starting caliber player when he earned his opportunities last season. But just because I think it doesn’t mean the coaching staff agrees. Their actions would seem to suggest otherwise, as the staff spent the offseason flirting with transfer quarterbacks left and right.
Jack Abraham is clearly going to be a factor, and Sam Horn shouldn’t be ignored in the competition, either. This quarterback competition feels as wide open as we’ve seen at Missouri in quite some time.
Who will enter the season as the starter? And will that same player finish the season as the starter? It’s up for debate. We’ll finally have some answers sooner rather than later.