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Rock M Roundtable: Spring (football) is here!

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Newbies are on campus, position battles are beginning and we’re overreacting!

NCAA Football: Central Michigan at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

To quote the brilliant and unforgettable Tom Lehrer: “Spring is here, spring is here! Life is skittles and life is beer! I think the loveliest time of the year is the spring, I do! Don’t you? ‘Course you do!”

One of the reasons we love spring time here at Rock M Nation is not just the abundance of allergens in the air or the beginning of baseball season but the presence of spring football camp! There’s nothing better than getting a head start on the football season ahead, especially when every crumb of information is disseminated through a filtered pipeline of public relations officers!

It’s an especially exciting time of year for Missouri who, despite coming off a disappointing bowl loss and some staff turnover, is welcoming the highest-rated recruiting class the program has ever seen and a host of high-end transfers. For fans, it’ll be the first opportunity to “see” these new faces in action and dream sweet little dreams about what it’ll be like to watch them come fall.

So, in the spirit of all that is springy, we gathered the Rock M football staff for a jaunty little roundtable. We’re answering all of the burning questions and offering a few scorchers of our own!

Spring football is fun because, hey, it’s football! But it can also be hard to discern what’s real and what’s all hype. What sort of stuff do you usually look for to inform us about next season’s team?

NCAA Football: North Texas at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Nate Edwards, Football Editor and Flower Sniffer: There’s not a ton you can take away from spring football since most of it is just killer workouts and reps with 3/4ths of a full roster. But I do like to look at the propaganda videos they send out to see who the vocal leaders are, the ones shown breaking down a practice or leading the huddles or the first ones to celebrate a player earning a PR lift. That’s important and fun. And, of course, how the quarterbacks are doing. Otherwise, it’s mostly just seeing the new numbers, the new weights, and over analyzing every crumb of information that is distributed.

Parker Gillam, Football Beat Writer: I do lean towards the side of not taking a lot from spring ball. This is a time where coaches are purely going through fundamentals and discerning what they’ve got at each position group, on top of the fact that injuries are more prevalent at this time. However, that does not mean it is not just as important as fall camp. For starters, momentum is a real thing, and having a productive camp followed up by a quality spring game can get both players and fans alike ecstatic for the season going into the summer.

To me, the biggest thing you can learn from the spring is what contributions these early-enrollees are going to make. The freshmen/transfers that decide to come to Columbia early are saying that they are all-in on this season and ready to play right away. The level of contribution guys like Mekhi Miller can have almost solely depends on how up-to-speed they can get in a couple weeks of camp.

Aaron Dryden, Staff Football Writer: Spring football is useful from a development perspective. Guys get a chance to learn concepts, change their body, and adjust to the collegiate lifestyle. That stuff is extremely important, and being able to do it in a relatively low stress environment is good for the players.

Trying to infer how a team may play or the concepts that they’ll use is pretty pointless. Everything is very vanilla and plain. Those kind of things will adjust based off the opponent and the personnel available. That said, you can learn some things. For example, last year’s spring game had a heavy dosage of Mookie Cooper and they explored some of the ways they could get the ball in his hands. Some of that stuff you can use as takeaways, but as a whole this period is so much about growth and development first and foremost.

One of the most exciting elements of spring ball is the presence of newcomers — touted freshmen, incoming transfers and the like. Out of all the new players currently on campus, who do you think we’ll be hearing about most this spring?

NCAA Football: Georgia at Florida Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Nate Edwards: You’re naturally inclined to lean towards Luther Burden or Ty’Ron Hopper and, to be fair, I would guess most of the news is going to revolve around those two. But the interior of the defensive line was super thin and got massive reinforcements from the portal and high school ranks. I’d expect to hear stuff about Ian Mathews, Jayden Jernigan, and Marquis Gracial as they’ll have the easiest path to making an impact.

Parker Gillam: There’s a lot to choose from, and definitely some more obvious picks, but I have been a big Tyrone Hopper fan since he committed. He already has the frame (6’4”, 245 lbs.) to battle in the SEC trenches, whether that be from the outside linebacker spot or as an edge rusher. Personally, I think he is going to be a great rotational guy who can certainly earn a starting role, and ideally he bolsters the pass rush. But, like every other early-enrollee, the spring is very important. With a new defensive coordinator, Hopper won’t be starting too far behind everyone else, but he has to prove himself.

As a side note (and maybe a little related to why I picked him), Hopper is from my hometown. Roswell, GA breeds some dudes, just look at Malik Willis from Liberty.

Aaron Dryden: There are plenty of guys I’m interested in seeing, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see someone like Jayden Jernigan quickly take over a spot on the interior defensive line and begin to impress people. Jernigan has that experience, and was just part of one of the better defensive units in college football last season. Couple that with this being a position of need, and I’d expect that with the eyes that will be on this group that he’ll be able to impress quickly.

Position battles are the name of the game in spring, with deep groups looking to get an early headcount of who will be rotating in and out in the fall. Which position group are you most interested in watching this spring?

NCAA Football: Armed Forces Bowl-Missouri at Army Andrew Dieb-USA TODAY Sports

Nate Edwards: My answer is almost always the offensive line. Quarterback is the most important, as is defensive line rotations, but offensive line pairings are always the most fascinating to me because it’s not about who is the most talented but which alignments get the most talent on the field that can play the best as a unit. Missouri has some super talented youth but also a very deep roster of quality dudes at every position. Figuring out which five can maximize the line’s effectiveness is one of my favorite things to hear about.

Parker Gillam: It is going to be everyone’s answer, but I am going to be following this wide receiver room closely. Luther Burden III will demand the most attention, and Mekhi Miller is flying under-the-radar, yet is talented enough to see significant playing time in year one. Burden and Miller have a lot to learn, and luckily for them they will be educated by some of the most experienced players in the nation. Barrett Banister has been at Mizzou for 30 years now, and he and Tauskie Dove know this offense and program like the back of their hands. I would love to see JJ Hester and Dominic Lovett take that next step this season, because they showed flashes of promise. And you can not forget about Chance Luper, who emerged as one of the more consistent pass-catchers last season. This is as deep and skilled of a WR room that Drinkwitz has had since he has been here, and I am eager to see how the veterans mesh with the youth.

Aaron Dryden: The defensive line is going to be fascinating to watch. They have two coaches at that position, and a nice mix of young talent to add to their existing impact players along the line.

I’m looking forward to seeing how they balance the influx of young talent on the edge, with two extremely talented edge rushers who are already here. Trajan Jeffcoat and Isaiah McGuire have proven in the past couple seasons that they’re more than formidable, and can cause havoc. They’re going to have spots. Then you add in Tyrone Hopper, who didn’t transfer to Missouri to sit on the bench. I’m interested in seeing, how does someone like a Travion Ford, Arden Walker, or Jonathan Jones get in to the rotation?

On the interior, Jayden Jernigan and Darius Robinson make up what is probably the starting tandem on the interior defensive line, but behind them? Your guess is as good as mine. Marquis Gracial is probably going to be in the running for early PT based off his massive size. Ky Montgomery has bulked up in a transition from defensive end, to defensive tackle. Ben Key, Daniel Robledo, and Realus George are around too. Ian Mathews, the transfer from Auburn, has a chance as well.

The level of play I think will be better in 2022, but it’s a matter of putting this puzzle together and finding guys who can be acceptable depth pieces as well.

We have to ask about the QB position because there’s gonna be a QB battle! Fun!!! Sam Horn won’t be on campus until the summer, so it’s the Macon vs. Cook show this spring. Who has the early lead, and what does the other need to do to make up ground?

NCAA Football: Armed Forces Bowl-Missouri at Army Andrew Dieb-USA TODAY Sports

Nate Edwards: Even considering a potential transfer quarterback coming in, the starting quarterback job is Brady Cook’s to lose. Clearly taking in a transfer quarterback means this staff isn’t comfortable with the guys that they currently have but Cook has Bazelak’s accuracy plus some actual mobility. He was trusted enough to play in five games last year, including the bowl game, and has been in the system for two years now. Macon has all the talent in the world but making college throws is his goal. If he has progressed in reading defenses and throwing catchable balls then he can certainly be a viable candidate. I like the quarterback room as it currently stands but a transfer coming in certainly isn’t out of the question.

Parker Gillam: Brady Cook has done nothing so far to suggest to me that he is not in the lead. He impressed in every game he played in by commanding the offense and being efficient through the air, and his legs were an added bonus that I had not expected. While I think Tyler Macon has plenty of upside and Drinkwitz will likely put some packages in place for him to run the ball, he is just too raw of a passer to advocate for, especially when Horn is an even more inexperienced guy with more upside. This is Cook’s job to lose to me.

Aaron Dryden: It’s probably Brady Cook’s job to lose. Cook has done a good job in the limited opportunities he’s been given, and quite frankly, has earned the chance to at least be treated as the incumbent. Throughout the season in 2021, Cook could’ve pouted or outright just transferred but he chose not to, and chose to keep being a good teammate and stayed ready for whenever his team needed him.

Macon is an exciting player, but I just want to see more of him in the spring. I just don’t know enough of where Macon is at in his development to say that he’s in contention for a starting spot.

As for Horn? He’s a redshirt waiting to happen. Coming into the offense in the summer just isn’t enough time to have the command that Drink would want his QB to have. I’d like to see him get into his four games, adjust to the speed, get some reps under his belt but still maintain that year of eligibility. He’s a promising player but time is ticking against him.

It wouldn’t be spring ball without a hot take or two. So let’s hear it: What’s your most scorching take that will come out of this spring?

NCAA Football: Texas A&M at Missouri Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Nate Edwards: The receivers are the 2007 receiving corps incarnate.

Aaron Dryden: Missouri has AT LEAST 8 players transfer after spring practice.