Notebook: Spring practice begins to start Drinkwitz’ tenure

The Tigers began their march toward the first game against Central Arkansas on Sept. 5.

Barrett Banister didn’t notice anything amiss in his locker before Missouri’s first spring practice of the year Saturday.

But some of his teammates’ jerseys had them confused.

“You’re walking around the locker room, and Brady [Cook]’s locker and Damon Hazelton’s right by mine,” the receiver said. “And they’re like ‘I don’t have a number’ and I’m like, ‘I don’t know what to tell you.’”

None of the newcomers — whether they be freshmen like James or transfers like Hazelton — had numbers on their jerseys to begin camp. It’s emblematic of one of new coach Eliah Drinkwitz’s overarching themes of camp: nothing will be given. Everything must be earned.

“They haven’t earned a number yet,” Drinkwitz said. “They get to earn a number when their position coach and position group determines that they’ve done enough, whether it’s through effort and pride or making plays that they deserve a number. They don’t have a number yet. Nobody new has earned that right yet.”

Nothing set in stone yet

It’s a long time — 182 days to be exact — between the first practice and when Missouri kicks off against Central Arkansas to begin the 2020 season, so Drinkwitz is taking his time both with installing his offense and deciding who will be involved in executing it.

“I told our guys there’s no starting positions out of spring,” he said. “I don’t care how good you play in the spring. In August, we determine who plays that first play. And our number one core value is always compete. The only thing better than a little competition’s a lot of competition.”

Continuity on the defensive staff

When the dust settled following Drinkwitz’s hiring spree to fill out his coaching staff, few remained from Barry Odom’s staff in 2019. Among those still around are defensive coordinator Ryan Walters and defensive line coach Brick Haley. Missouri’s defense was among the best in the country last year, allowing 21.2 points per game, No. 24 in college football.

Returning much of the same staff, defensive tackle Kobie Whiteside thinks that will allow the unit to pick up where it left off in 2020.

“I feel like with that system, we’re gonna have a good flow with it,” he said. “We already know the plays. We already know how the system works. When we have time for us to do the system during [the] spring game and go over it during the season again is always gonna flow just better.”

New faces in leadership

Running back Larry Rountree III described himself as a “deer in the headlights” when he first arrived on campus. Now entering his senior year, he’s understanding his new responsibility as a veteran presence on the team.

“It’s been great to see new faces come in the spring,” he said. “We got a couple freshmen here. It’s great. I’m gonna be a senior, so a little different, weird, you know. Carrying that leadership role. I know I got [to] speak on stuff a little bit more.”

Shortly after Odom was fired, defensive tackle Jordan Elliott declared for the NFL draft, where he’s projected to be an early-round pick. Linebacker and captain Cale Garrett is also gone, having used all of his eligibility. Their departures leave holes on the team both physically and emotionally, holes a new guard of defensive leaders will have to fill.

“Now it’s us stepping up into it, and all together type of thing,” Whiteside said. “Nobody’s greater than the next person, so we just gonna keep moving from it.”

Edited by Eli Hoff | ehoff@themaneater.com

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