There’s no “I” in team, but there is one in spring football.
Missouri coach Eliah Drinkwitz told reporters Tuesday that he has three goals for his team over the next month: individual player development, laying a foundation for offense, defense and special teams and continuing to work on team chemistry.
“Our goal is for each and every single player on our team to develop this spring, to take them from where they’re at to get them to a different place as a player and a person,” he said. “Everybody’s going to have to contribute to our football team’s success. Spring is about them developing.”
This will be the first full spring Drinkwitz spends with the Tigers after last year’s session was cut short because of COVID-19. Missouri finished 5-5 in Drinkwitz’s first season, earning a spot in the Music City Bowl against Iowa before it was canceled because of a virus outbreak within the Missouri program.
The 2021 season is set to return to a normal, 12-game schedule featuring four nonconference opponents.
“Everything starts over and nothing that we accomplished last year, other than the confidence that we have in what we’re doing, what worked, is going to affect what we’re doing this year,” Drinkwitz said.
As part of his plan to focus on individual player development, Drinkwitz said the team won’t establish depth charts until fall camp. However, he said there are no “glaring roster holes” and that there’s competitive depth within the position groups.
MU’s spring season starts Friday.
Robinson among roster moves for Tigers
Besides the announcement of Missouri’s new coaching hires Ryan Russell, Brett Whiteside and Russell Fletcher, Drinkwitz revealed a few other personnel changes, roster moves and unavailable players.
Perhaps the biggest position change was Shawn Robinson’s move from quarterback to safety. The redshirt senior played in five games in 2020, passing for 185 yards and one touchdown. Though he started the team’s 2020 season opener and traded reps with Connor Bazelak at the start of the season, he spent most of the year at second string before transitioning to a role as a special teams player and reserve safety after the unit was depleted from COVID-19 absences and injuries.
“What we expect out of Shawn is for him to be the best version of himself every single day,” Drinkwitz said. “He’ll walk out there and compete and be better today than he was yesterday, be better tomorrow than he was today. If he does that consistently over the month of March — there’s gonna be good days and bad days. There’s gonna be times when he learns something new that he hasn’t done before, but the thing I know about Shawn is he’s gonna work his butt off to master the technique.”
Bazelak will try to pick up where he left off after winning Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Year as a first-year starter last season. The redshirt sophomore completed 218 passes for 2,366 yards in the shortened season, returning from an ACL tear he suffered in the 2019 season finale. Drinkwitz’s short list of things for Bazelak to work on this spring centered around challenging himself and not being careless or comfortable.
“First thing we have to improve on is our ball security in the pocket,” he said. “The second thing we need to improve upon is our ability to score touchdowns in the red zone and be a more productive player in the red area. And then the third thing is I want to see him be is aggressive. I don’t want to see him be reckless, but I want to see him be aggressive this spring.”
Defensive lineman Kobie Whiteside and outside linebacker Jatorian Hansford are both out, recovering from post-season surgery. Linebacker Cameron Wilkins also will be unavailable following his in-season surgery and safety Jalani Williams is out with upper-body surgery.
Wide receiver Javian Hester, returning from injury, will come back during spring practice.
Sterk comments on new indoor practice facility
When Drinkwitz was asked about progress on the football team’s new indoor practice facility, he didn’t have much to offer. He did say, though, that he had spotted surveyors scoping out the positioning of the facility from his office window in the South End Zone.
“The design should be completed by the May board meeting, and we’re hopeful to have a financing plan by then so that we can move forward,” MU director of athletics Jim Sterk said in his own news conference Tuesday.
Sterk again pointed out that Missouri is the northernmost school in the SEC and the only major university in the region that doesn’t have a full indoor field. The football program shares the field at Devine Pavilion with women’s soccer, baseball and softball. Sterk said the team couldn’t run a normal practice during last week’s below-zero temperatures as multiple teams tried to practice in the facility.
“It got a little crowded, you know, during the polar vortex trying to have teams in there,” he said.
A new indoor practice facility has been on Drinkwitz’s wish list since he arrived at MU. Sterk recalled showing Drinkwitz around campus in a golf cart looking, at what could be renovated or constructed within the athletic complex.
“He said, ‘I’ll bet if you asked all our coaches, they don’t have enough indoor space,’” Sterk said. “And he was thinking not only for football, but also for (other sports).”