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Quarterback battle, new running back headline Mizzou Football’s preseason camp

Who’s starting at QB? Do we believe in the RB depth? We asked the football staff these questions and more in our opening preseason roundtable.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 22 Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl - Missouri v Army Photo by Nick Tre. Smith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Believe it or not, we’re just a few months away from another season of Missouri Tiger football. As we do every summer, we’ve gathered the editorial staff to answer various questions about the different position groups across the roster.

While this is technically the first preseason football roundtable of the summer, it feels slightly disingenuous to frame it as such.

After all, we never truly stop talking about football in the SEC. From the moment the air clears on the winter bowl game, it’s pretty much non-stop offseason action. This feels especially true of the past six months at Mizzou. An onslaught of incoming and outgoing transfers give the 2022 team a brand new feel. The celebrated 2022 recruiting class only augments that feeling. And at no position is that more true than behind center.

The not-so-shocking transfer of Connor Bazelak seemingly paved the way for Brady Cook or Tyler Macon to grab hold of the starter’s spot ahead of Sam Horn’s summer arrival. But a flurry of transfer visits — and the commitment of a 25-year-old journeyman — combined with the uncertainty around Sam Horn’s MLB draft status has upended our preconceived notions of the position While Brady Cook: QB1 felt like a sure thing after the Armed Forces Bowl, there’s a very real sense around the program that Jack Abraham could be the guy.

And have I mentioned that Mizzou has to replace an All-American running back? There’s no shortage of questions surrounding the Missouri backfield as we head into summer camp, and we’re itching to address them. We’ll be making our way through the Missouri roster position by position over the coming weeks and asking our editorial staff the burning questions facing Eli Drinkwitz’s staff. Stick around in the coming days for further analysis of the quarterback and running back groups.

Mizzou’s QB situation has been the subject of endless discussion, especially after Drinkwitz brought in multiple transfer signal callers in the spring. Does the uncertainty make you nervous about this fall’s prospective QB room?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 13 South Carolina at Missouri Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Parker Gillam: I’ll start this off by saying I’m a fairly big fan of Brady Cook, so I am a bit more optimistic than most. However, I will by no means say I am completely confident in the position.

First, the positives. Brady Cook (again, in my opinion) performed as well as he could have in situations against Georgia and Army when he began to take control of the team. With a full offseason of preparation as QB1, I think Cook will take the necessary steps forward to become a reliable SEC quarterback. His ability to scramble provides another element that this team lacked for much of last season from the QB spot, and I think it is more conducive to Drinkwitz’ offensive system. I’d also like to point out that he completed nearly 80% of his passes in 2021. Now imagine that with a receiving core which only got stronger.

Now for the flip side. For starters, every team in the SEC has now had a good look at Cook, and they expect to see him playing in the fall. Bottom line: he will not be taking anybody by surprise with what he is capable of, especially with his legs.

Also, we have to be honest. Brady Cook is largely unproven. On a week-to-week basis in the toughest conference in the sport, how is he going to hold up? Will some of the high-level defenses be too much for him? How much is the aspect of Tyler Macon being right behind him be in his head?

Brady Cook carries himself like a starting quarterback, and he has shown flashes of being a great one. He now needs to prove that he is in fact ready for this, because the rest of his team is not good enough to remain afloat if he doesn’t perform.

Brandon Kiley: Well, yeah. Of course it does. I think it should. The coaching staff told us everything we need to know with their endless search for an upgrade at the position. Mizzou was tied to just about every transfer quarterback possible. That doesn’t happen if the staff has full confidence in its current options at the position.

That said, they could be wrong. It wouldn’t be the first time a coaching staff has underrated its internal options at a position in favor of outside options. Maybe Brady Cook and Tyler Macon just aren’t great practice players. Maybe they’re better than Drinkwitz believes them to be.

In the end, I tend to believe in actions more than words. And the Tigers’ actions all offseason lead me to believe the leader in the clubhouse to be Missouri’s starting quarterback this season is Southern Miss/Mississippi State transfer Jack Abraham. He’s dealt with a number of injuries and some bad luck in recent years but he was reasonably productive in his time at Southern Miss from 2018-2020. I do have some concerns about his interceptions (29 interceptions in 27 games played).

Kortay Vincent: I am worried about the QB situation for the Tigers. Personally, I think if you aren’t you’re lying to yourself. QB is the most important position on the field, and while the Tigers have talented players at other skill positions, if they don’t have a guy to get them the ball, the Tigers offense could look like the same offense last year that frustrated fans.

With that being said, things could be alright. I have a slight optimism about Jack Abraham. Can I give you a great reason based on past success he’s had? No, not really, but I have a gut feeling. He had success at Southern Miss before transferring to MISST, and he’s been unlucky throughout his career. Maybe shipping up to Columbia is just what he needs to change his fortunes.

If Abraham doesn’t work out, Brady Cook did prove he’s competent last year even if I’m not his biggest fan. Are the Tigers going to be anything special with Cook under center? Probably not, but he did prove he’s capable of managing a game against Army. With that being said, Army is not the SEC. In that game, Mizzou was bigger and faster. In the SEC that will almost never be the case, and it will make it a hell of a lot harder for Cook to have the success he had in that bowl game.

Whether it’s Cook, Abraham, or even Macon leading the way for the Tigers this year, there will be question marks and that’s what makes me worried. But even so, you never know when a diamond in the rough may come your way.

While Tyler Badie thrived as Mizzou’s go-to guy, we’ve seen Missouri thrive in the past when they have more than one option to turn to. Do you expect Nathaniel Peat to shoulder the full load of production or will some other backs play an important role?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 22 Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl - Missouri v Army Photo by Nick Tre. Smith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Parker Gillam: I’ve talked a bit about this before, but I like to look at patterns. Much like Badie, Elijah Young is a guy who has bided his time behind star running backs, and he now finally has his chance to be the workhorse. He’s slippery in the open field and has enough speed to get by most defenders. While he hasn’t gotten a lot of chances, he’s taken advantage of them every time in the past. Young will make his mark on this team early in the season.

However, I do think that the Tigers will be at their best when they have a couple of options. Nathaniel Peat is too gifted to keep off the field, so a two-RB system appears to be the best bet. He has the speed to break off some big runs that the Tigers will certainly need to keep defenses honest, and a running back staying healthy all year like Badie did (mostly) rarely happens in the SEC. It pays to have quality depth, especially at this position.

Now, I do think there is a third factor in this running back equation, but I’ll save that for the last question...

Brandon Kiley: Much like Parker, I like using history as my guide. Tyler Badie had 268 carries last year while the rest of Missouri’s running backs combined for 100. Larry Rountree III finished with 209 carries in 10 games in 2020, with the rest of Missouri’s running backs combining for 59. In Drinkwitz’s lone season as the head coach at Appalachian State, Darrynton Evans led the way with 255 carries while the rest of the running back group combined for 214.

This is clearly a trend. Drinkwitz likes leaning heavily on one running back for at least 60 percent of the workload. The rest of the group comes in as a change-of-pace.

To answer the question directly, I expect Nathaniel Peat to be that lead running back this year the way Badie, Rountree and Evans have been for Drinkwitz in previous seasons. Elijah Young is almost certainly going to factor in as Peat’s primary backup, but the third option appears to be up in the air. BJ Harris, Cody Schrader, Michael Cox and Tavorus Jones could each see varying degrees of playing time, depending on the situation in the game.

Kortay Vincent: This is going to sound repetitive, but yes, I don’t foresee a running back by committee format for the Tigers this year. I think Nate Peat will be the guy, and I think he’s going to thrive in that role.

One thing about Drinkwitz’s offenses in the past is he has had a talented running back put up wild numbers in each of the last 3 years. Just like Josh mentioned, Darrynton Evans, Larry Rountree, and Tyler Badie, have all shouldered heavy loads and excelled at doing it.

From what I’ve watched of Peat, I really like him. He averaged 5.7 YPC in his career at Stanford, and I think in this expanded role, he’s going to keep that success up. While I may have questions about Drinkwitz’s first couple years and the passing game, I sure as hell don’t have any about his ability to develop the running game, and I don’t foresee that changing.

A lot of the backfield names that we expect to contribute are familiar at this point — Brady Cook, Nathaniel Peat, Elijah Young, etc. But are there any under-the-radar guys you think will make a name for themselves amongst Mizzou fans this fall?

Parker Gillam: I’ll go out on a limb and say that Cody Schrader will A. Be the fan favorite on this team and B. Play a fairly large role, especially in the red zone. I was thoroughly impressed by his performance in the spring game, and although that is obviously a far different caliber of game than what will be taking place in the fall, it showed enough.

Mainly, I saw why he made it from Truman State to Mizzou. He ran with a noticeable physicality and determination, and he churned for every yard he could on every play. He’s built like a bowling ball and he plays like one, and it is just what the Tigers need to compliment the quickness of Young and Peat.

The home-state factor provides a great storyline as well, and I think it will be a big part of what makes fans enjoy his presence in Columbia. I can see Schrader as the short-yardage, goal-line specialist for this 2022 offense, and I think he will be very successful at doing so.

Brandon Kiley: Well, one name I would add to that list is Jack Abraham. I think he has a very real chance to start this season, and I would go so far as to suggest he’s the favorite going into camp. We’ll see on that, though.

As for more under-the-radar names to consider, I would keep an eye on freshman running back Tavorus Jones. He’s built like Elijah Young (5-foot-9, 185 pounds) and he was as big of a threat in the passing game as he was in the running game for his high school in El Paso, Texas. As mentioned, the Tigers’ running backs behind Peat and Young are very much in the air. If there’s any position a freshman can make an immediate impact, it’s running back. I would keep an eye on Jones to potentially be one of the early contributors from Drinkwitz’s 2022 recruiting class.

Kortay Vincent: Me and BK are in agreement here. Jack Abraham is my guy right now.

In my eyes, I know the Tigers ceiling with Cook under center, and I think it’s 6-6. However, to me, I think Abraham poses the possibility of more success because of his accuracy. In his final season at Southern Miss he completed nearly 68% of his passes and threw for nearly 3500 yards. Even if that was in the group of 5, that tells me his ceiling is higher than Cook’s, and I’m eager to see him get his shot to put a bow on a college career that has had many twists and turns.

Have any questions you want answered about different positions on the roster? Let us know in the comments and we’ll submit them to be included in our coming features!