ST. LOUIS- Eli Drinkwitz begins his second spring camp Friday as Head Coach of the Missouri Tigers, hoping to complete a full camp for the first time, after the coronavirus pandemic interrupted his first session last spring.
The Tigers are hoping to build on a 2020 record of 5-5 against an all-SEC slate with a schedule that, pandemic-permitting, will return to a 12 game schedule with non-conference opponents Southeast Missouri, Boston College, North Texas and Central Michigan.
Here are 6 storylines to watch out for leading up to the Spring Game on March 20:
- New Staff on Defense: New Defensive Coordinator Steve Wilks gets the chance to start implementing his vision for the Tigers, out of a 4-3 base that will function more like a 4-2-5 The Tigers will welcome new defensive backs coach Aaron Fletcher in time for Friday’s start of practice, replacing David Gibbs, who left for Gus Malzahn’s UCF staff. Drinkwitz said Wilks will definitely work with the cornerbacks, tapping into the developmental experience he’s had with NFL players like Josh Norman.
- Playmakers Welcome: Newcomers like WR Dominic Lovett (East St. Louis) and fellow wideout Ohio State transfer Mookie Cooper (Trinity) will get an early jump on seeing where they fit in when it comes to adding playmakers to the passing game and special teams. Returnees like Jay Maclin, Chase Luper and Javian Hester saw limited time in 2020 and will have a chance to show more can be expected of them in 2021. Hester is clear to practice after offseason surgery
- Roster Management: Life for any college football coach means constantly recruiting, and not just new players. Drinkwitz told stltoday’s Dave Matter last week that “There’s still going to be guys (on the roster) who still don’t quite feel like they fit us. That’s part of it. That’s good. We’ll make it work,” meaning transfers could pop up after spring practice. Considering the staff turnover on defense this offseason, transfers on that side of the ball shouldn’t be much of a surprise. He told reporters Tuesday he doesn’t see glaring holes on the roster.
- Replacing Nick Bolton: Nick Bolton, the heart and soul of the Tiger defense, declared for the NFL Draft after the season and will leave a leadership void, along with the physical talent that could make him a first day selection. Don’t expect spring camp to clarify who will try to fill Bolton’s shoes. Drinkwitz on Tuesday looked forward to the incoming crop of linebacker talent coming on board over the summer, including graduate transfer Blaze Alldredge (Rice) plus true freshmen Zach Lovett and Dameon Wilson.
- Injured List: Defensive Lineman Kobie Whiteside, Safety Jelani Williams (Parkway North), and linebackers Jatorian Hansford and Cameron Wilkins will miss spring practice due to surgery. Williams’ absence, plus the departures of Joshua Bledsoe and Tyree Gillespie for the NFL Draft, gives new safety Shawn Robinson a chance for extra reps as he makes the permanent transition from quarterback. Robinson shined when pressed into duty late last season against Mississippi State and recorded an interception.
- Camp Changes: Fans used to a spring practice schedule leading up to an April scrimmage will notice that this year’s version is compact. Past iterations have seen practice interrupted by spring break or other breaks. Drinkwitz said the goal is to maximize the time between spring and summer camp, allowing for 4 months in between for players to heal in the event of injury. The spring scrimmage, which isn’t officially called the Black and Gold game, will not mark the end of camp, which continues until March 26. Also of note: practices will have limited media access, something that has not happened since the coronavirus pandemic began.