Missouri guard Case Cook battled through pain all season. His shoulder injury was bad enough that team doctors advised him to shut down for the year after the Tigers’ Week 2 loss to Kentucky. He missed the next two games but returned to the starting lineup, even as his name became a mainstay on the weekly injury report.
The medical staff finally shut down Cook for the season last week. Coach Eliah Drinkwitz said the redshirt senior’s shoulder wasn’t progressing to the point where he could “functionally play.” Surgery was the only option.
Before he went under the knife, Cook’s mentality had already shifted into that of a coach. It’s how he’ll spend the remaining five weeks of the season as his teammates try to move forward without one of the most consistent players on the line.
Fellow offensive linemen Hyrin White and Connor Wood both said Wednesday that Cook’s personality hasn’t changed since his health-induced reassignment. It’s not that he isn’t taking his coaching duties seriously; the team captain had already taken it upon himself to help his teammates all season. Coaching is just an extension of his previous job.
“He can bring a lot of knowledge and information to everybody on the O-line, not just his position,” White said. “He’s known for knowing the offensive line like the back of his hand, so he’s a great, great dude.
“It’s like I’m playing next to a coach. He’s knowing everything.”
Wood started each of the two games Cook missed. Either he or EJ Ndoma-Ogar will likely see the majority of the action Saturday against Vanderbilt. The offensive line has been one of Missouri’s most stable position groups within games. The same quintet — Javon Foster, Michael Maietti, Xavier Delgado, White and Cook when healthy — generally stays on the field for every snap.
“EJ’s a great football player too, and it’s a big competition out there between me and him,” Wood said. “I think it just elevates the O-line room right now when everyone’s pushing forward.”
Missouri stands to benefit from the fact that it was relatively prepared for the eventuality of losing a starter. Drinkwitz announced in August that the Tigers would play their five best players on the line regardless of position.
Now, while Drinkwitz has indicated that it will likely be a straight swap of Wood or Ndoma-Ogar for Cook, the line can comfortably shift as needed for the remainder of the season. Most of the players have at least practiced at a position where they don’t normally play. Similarly, all have played next to a variety of teammates, easing the transition to a different starting guard.
As for Cook, he still has another year of eligibility because of the pandemic-influenced 2020 season. Drinkwitz said Tuesday it was too early to determine whether he wanted to use it — or if his health would allow him to. So for now, he’s just focused on his new job.
“We’re a pretty tight group on the O-line, so losing him, it’s a terrible thing,” Wood said. “But we just gotta keep on moving forward. He set a great example for us and a standard as an O-line. And he’s still there. It’s not like he’s not there. He’s still leading us and helping us out.”