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Takeaways from Eli Drinkwitz Saturday press conference

The center position appears to be set for 2023

NCAA Football: Arkansas at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

On Saturday, Missouri held a scrimmage, closed to the media, that simulated in-game scenarios including operating in the red zone and the end of halves. Eli Drinkwitz addressed the media afterward pointing out positives from both sides of the ball, but to no surprise had a lot more to say about the defense.

“I thought our defense started really fast. (The) offense finally found a little rhythm in the open field and then capitalized at the end of half which was good to see,” Drinkwitz said. “I’m really pleased with the way our defensive line is performing right now along with our linebackers being very sturdy against the run, and its really hard to pass against Ennis Rakestraw, Jr. and K.D (Kris Abrams-Draine those are really good players.”

The team will have an off day tomorrow before transitioning into what is called an execution week, keying in on playing under pressure and performing in critical situations.

Offensive line battle

Drinkwitz noted that there are seven to eight guys on the team in contention to be the starting five for this season, with Javon Foster practically a lock at left tackle. However, Drinkwitz had some interesting comments about the interior.

“I’ve been really proud of Connor Tollison,” Drinkwitz said. “His gas meter has gone through the roof and he’s really taken on ownership of that offensive line, from calling it and being dedicated to snapping the ball, from gaining weight, so I’ve been proud of him and I think that naturally happens when the game means something to you.”

These comments seem as if Tollison has locked up the starting center position for the 2023 season, Cam’Ron Johnson, who transferred from Houston, has been taking snaps with the team. This creates a domino effect across the offensive line. If Tollison is the man starting at center, this means that Johnson likely will be starting at guard over either Xavier Delgado or Armand Membou.

Tight ends improving throughout camp

The tight end position is one where there is room for improvement. Drinkwitz said that during Saturday’s practice, he thought that senior Tyler Stephens had his best day on the field during fall camp with consistency in the blocking and running game. This hasn’t overshadowed the rest of the group, specifically the two freshmen, which reportedly have been continuing an upward trajectory.

“I’ve been very pleased with the way Brett Norfleet and Jordon Harris have played in the run game,” Drinkwitz said. “I think those guys physical nature has surprised me and the rest of those guys about how the way they play. They’ve been physical, and they’ve been consistent in catching the football.”

We don’t know how much or if there will be an increase in production among the tight ends in Kirby Moore’s offense. They weren’t utilized much at Fresno State, but it is great to hear positives coming from that room.

Carnell to see an increased role

In 2022, Daylan Carnell made a sizeable impact with the team recording a trio of interceptions, one for a touchdown, six pass deflections, and a pair of fumble recoveries and tackles for loss. He played in the STAR position along with Martez Manuel and will see an increased role this season within Blake Baker’s defense.

“We’ve actually had to move him around a little bit besides just playing in the STAR and rover position,” Drinkwitz said. “He’s done a nice job of accepting those opportunities to stay and play on the field and he’s just got to continue to trust the process. He’s not been able to create the amount of turnovers that he normally has in the first couple of weeks, but he can’t get frustrated with that and he’s gotta continue to do his job and improve fundamentally.”

Speaking of fundamentals, that’s been something that Jaylon Carlies has been working on this offseason, as well as taking an important step forward as a senior.

“I’ve seen more of a leadership role out of J.C,” Drinkwitz said. “Not necessarily vocally, but body language-wise, being a great teammate, study and tape and I’m really proud of what J.C has become.”

Has the wide receiver perimeter blocking improved?

Last Saturday, Drinkwitz was really critical of the way his wide receivers were contributing in the blocking game by calling it “embarrassing” and “not even near what the standard should be.” A week later, here’s an update on if the group has improved or not:

“I think they’ve responded really well. You can either take B.C.D, blame, complain and defend poor performance or you can respond and focus on the process of improvement, and I’ve really felt like they done that…but by no means are we a finished product,” Drinkwitz said.

Other notes

Is Blake Craig the next great Mizzou kicker?: I know Harrison (Mevis) is excited about being the kickoff guy, but don’t write that down in pen yet. (Blake) Craig is coming and I’ve been very impressed with the way Blake has kicked the ball and the way he’s consistently attacked every single day.”

On Darius Robinson’s back-to-school event: “I’m very proud of Darius for giving back. We’re blessed to be a blessing…I think it’s an attitude of gratiutide and that was actually something that we talked about in our meeting today as we talked about being emotionally consistent. One of the ways we can do that is to view the world with and attitude of gratitude and understand that we’re very fortunate to be here at Mizzou and the SEC.”

On Chase Daniel visiting the Tigers last week: “I started worrying about my job security,” Drinkwitz said in a joking matter. “Chase is phenomenal. He’s a natural born leader, great speaker and obviously, he’s got great credibility because him playing here, and being under-recruited he always had something to prove. He played so long in the NFL, he always had that right kind of chip on his shoulder, and shared his story with the team and was able to give insight on both sides of the ball.”