Observations from Faurot: Missouri football continues to develop camaraderie as spring season continues

The Tigers’ defense impressed during the team’s first “live” practice of the spring season.

On Saturday, for the first time since it fell 51-32 to Mississippi State in mid-December, Missouri football played live tackle football.

Sure, the defense couldn’t completely deck a receiver running a crossing route or actually hit the quarterback once it arrived in the backfield, but Saturday’s open practice felt more like a game than any other practice this spring.

While practices usually run 24 periods, the Tigers stopped at period four: team period. The few fans who braved the chilly, cloudy day to show up at Faurot Field late Saturday morning didn’t watch drill after positional drill. Instead, coach Eli Drinkwitz treated them to over an hour's worth of competitive 11-on-11 football.

“Being live again, you get to work your operations,” redshirt senior receiver Barrett Banister said. “Subbing people in and out, working on cadences –– there’s a lot of stuff going on and the bullets are flying for real. It gets you back in the mindset of actually having to do it and not just being in a controlled setting.”

The Tigers worked on everything from red zone execution to their hurry-up offense. Missouri’s defense showed what it could do –– whether it was back-end coverage in the secondary or a simple edge rush –– thanks to the practices’ live nature.

All three quarterbacks rotated through the different situations and displayed some of their strengths and weaknesses. Since the team practiced live, each snap brought out a competitive edge.

“It’s just real football,” redshirt sophomore quarterback Connor Bazelak said. “You can only do so much when there is no tackling, so it was good to get back at it and grow from it.”

Missouri’s defensive line stood out

Earlier in the spring, Drinkwitz laid out his personal defensive philosophy. He talked about the importance of stopping the run, playing situational football, taking the ball away and harassing the opposing quarterback.

On Saturday, the defensive line certainly lived up to the coach’s third ideal as it constantly harassed the opposing quarterback, even if it couldn’t tackle him. It seemed as if a different defensive lineman invaded the backfield seconds after each snap, which forced the quarterback to quickly clear the pocket and make a rushed decision. There were multiple times where they just had to take the “sack.”

“We got good pass rushes,” Drinkwitz said. “It’s hard to always tell when you’re live whether they’re going to get home or not, but they did a nice job of creating pressure and push.”

Two players who stood out were junior transfers Daniel Robledo and Realus George Jr. Multiple Missouri edge rushers prevented the offensive line from setting any sort of edge or clean pocket that it frequently wanted to.

Missouri’s developing chemistry is already apparent on the sidelines

Missouri players competed even before they took the practice field on Saturday. Drinkwitz said that the team held a Saturday morning basketball competition before it headed over to Faurot Field.

Spring is a good opportunity for newer players to learn installs and for plenty of “individual player development,” but it’s also a good time for a young team –– like Missouri –– to build a sense of team camaraderie.

Drinkwitz used that word a lot in his post-practice media availability and said it’s what sets teams apart in the SEC –– especially a team like Missouri, which does not have the natural talent of an Alabama or Georgia.

“The best teams I’ve been on or been associated with that win championships have camaraderie, trust and fun, … [which] helps them be successful,” Drinkwitz said. “We’ve got to continue to add that to try to help that be our competitive advantage or our edge going into these football games.”

The Tigers have started to develop that chemistry through those basketball competitions and even things as simple as eating meals or hanging out with a different group of players each day.

That chemistry could already be seen on the sidelines Saturday. Players hyped one another up after big plays and neither side of the ball felt afraid to jaw at the other in a friendly, competitive way.

“Today, there was a lot of fun out there,” Drinkwitz said. “There were guys celebrating each other’s success, which is always a huge part of camaraderie and developing relationships.”

Missouri’s quarterback room will be deep in 2021

The Tigers scored just one “touchdown” in their first three drives to kick off the team period. But it wasn’t Bazelak who led the drive. Instead, it was redshirt freshman quarterback Brady Cook, who found senior running back Simi Bakare with a quick pass, and he sprinted down the right sideline for the quick score.

Bazelak, Cook and freshman quarterback Tyler Macon each received plenty of run on Saturday and flashed some of their abilities during “live reps.” Cook and Bazelak made some solid reads and throws while Macon –– who displayed his fair share of ups and downs –– showcased his athleticism to constantly escape collapsing pockets, and even picked up a first down on a 30-yard scramble.

“You’ve got to have multiple quarterbacks in order to be successful,” Drinkwitz said. “My job is to try and develop Connor to be the very best quarterback he can be and push Brady and Tyler every day to beat him out.”

Bazelak will be the starter next season, but it’s nice for Missouri to know that it has a QB room full of talented players who enjoy being around one another and will continue to compete with and challenge each another.

“We all push one another and we compete at practice,” Cook said. “Off the field, we enjoy hanging out [and] talking ball. It’s been a competitive quarterback room and I really like where we’re at.”

OTHER NOTES

Two more Missouri players earn their numbers: Slowly, but surely, the Tigers’ young players are earning their numbers. On Saturday, Macon donned his new number, 10, while freshman cornerback Zxaequan Reeves wore number 30.

Both freshmen joined a large group of players who have already earned their numbers this spring, which includes sophomore receiver Mookie Cooper, freshman receiver Dominic Lovett and freshman defensive back Daylan Carnell.

Missouri’s young receivers continue to impress:: There has been a lot of conversation about the Tigers’ newest additions to the receiver room next season, and for good reason. The aforementioned Cooper and Lovett bring a fresh dynamic to a team that hasn’t had a receiver go over 1,000 yards since J’Mon Moore in 2017.

Banister –– one of the Tigers’ veteran receivers –– said he’s already been impressed with the duo’s determination to get better and learn Drinkwitz’s system in spring ball.

“Both of them have been so willing and open to listen to whoever is willing to give them information,” Banister said. “They just want to take it in. I think it’s a great start for them and I’m sure they will continue to do so.”

Next up, the spring game: The next time Missouri takes the field in front of fans will come on Friday, March 20, in its first spring game since 2018. Once again, the Tigers will be able to scrimmage live in what is usually the premier football event of the spring “season.”

“It’s fun to see friends and family out there who want to watch,” Banister said. “Spring football was taken from us last year, so it’s cool to see these fans out here.”

Edited by Jack Soble | jsoble@themaneater.com

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