Missouri’s spring positional grades

Emily Leiker

Missouri’s Black and Gold Game might have left fans wanting a little more real football.

The Saturday practice leaned heavily on positional drills and no-contact scrimmaging, unlike traditional spring games.

At the very least, The Black and Gold Game gave fans a look at where each position group is in terms of its development.

Here are the Missourian’s grades for each position room coming out of the Black and Gold Game and entering the final of week of spring practices.

Quarterbacks: C+

Drinkwitz described Saturday’s play by his quarterback group as “blah,” which sums up how most of the spring has been for the relatively inexperienced quartet.

There were no passing touchdowns in either the red zone or open field scrimmage portions of practice, and Jack Samsel threw an interception late in the day during one of his only appearances.

“We didn’t execute at a high enough level,” Drinkwitz said. “Connor [Bazelak] made a couple of good throws, but overall, we can improve. ”

For three of Missouri’s four quarterbacks, including Connor Bazelak, this is the first full spring period in which they’re participating. Drinkwitz said Bazelak’s mindset for the spring session was focused on growing fundamentals and continuing to understand the speed of play.

Bazelak also has shown improvement in his movement within the pocket, though he hasn’t shown much desire to move out of it and run. Brady Cook and Tyler Macon appeared much more mobile than Bazelak on Saturday, though that might have just been because of the offensive lineman group with which they each were working.

Running Backs: B+

Most of the discussion around the running back group this spring has revolved around a central question: How can it fill the hole left by Larry Rountree III?

Tyler Badie and Elijah Young split reps with the first-team offense and had solid, though unexceptional, performances.

Badie is used to rotating snaps, having shared the first-string role with Rountree his freshman and sophomore years, accumulating almost 1,000 yards in his first two seasons. But his reps at running back took a significant cut last season.

Simi Bakare had a few breakaway runs as well, but it was redshirt freshman Michael Cox who got a shout out from Drinkwitz for his performance.

“Very excited about the way he played today,” he said. “We’re hopeful he can continue to improve.”

Wide Receivers: B+

Missouri’s wide receiver room is a healthy mix of 12 veterans and newcomers, making for a variation of experience.

Freshman Dominic Lovett and redshirt freshman and Ohio State transfer Mookie Cooper have each made a number of standout plays throughout the spring. They’re supported by veterans like Keke Chism, Boo Smith and Tauskie Dove, who was a popular target Saturday but failed to secure a few potential TDs.

Chism led the Tigers last year in receiving yards with 458, and Dove led the group in scoring with two touchdowns and 300 yards.

Growing the chemistry between the receivers and all three of Missouri’s quarterbacks, especially Bazelak, will be essential.

Tight Ends: C

It’s not clear who will be the leading tight end for the Tigers this fall, and none of the potential candidates presented much of a case Saturday.

Based on experience, Daniel Parker Jr. would be the obvious choice, and Messiah Swinson and Niko Hea also are in the mix.

The final 2020 depth chart, created for the Music City Bowl that was never played, listed Parker Jr. or Hea as first string and Swinson or Logan Christopherson second.

Hea had the most receiving yards of the group last year, logging 130 on 14 receptions. He also had two touchdowns.

Still, there’s definitely competition for the starting spot, and someone will need to stand out a bit more in the fall if they’re looking to become an optional target for Bazelak.

Offensive Line: C+

The projected first-string O-line for the Tigers this fall is solid.

Case Cook, Michael Maetti and Hyrin White did well enough protecting Bazelak on Saturday, but its second and third stringers weren’t able to give other quarterbacks much time to read the field from within the pocket.

Missouri will need the next four months to bring forth some stronger candidates to back up its core three on the O-line. Otherwise, Tiger fans could be in for a long season.

Defensive Line: A-

Former Miami fullback-turned-lineman Realus George Jr. found himself in the backfield a handful of times Saturday, and he wasn’t the only one from the defensive line to do so. He’s one of several backups who could see some first-string action in the fall.

Isaiah McGuire, Darius Robinson and Akial Byers were go-to starters all spring, and it’s likely Byers will be a stronghold and prominent leader within the defensive unit.

Linebackers: B+

Similar to its running back group, MU’s linebacker room needs to fill the gap left by Nick Bolton.

There are a number of candidates for the role, and much like the secondary, the group shows promise overall.

Devin Nicholson will be a leader for the defense next year. The junior had 54 solo tackles and an interception last season, a significant increase over his true freshman stats.

Though neither had remarkable 2020 stats, Jamie Pettway and Chad Bailey could surprise fans — and opposing offenses — with a little more work.

Secondary: A-

MU’s secondary is probably its most promising position group, with a significant amounts of depth and talent.

The defense dominated Saturday, as it has in most scrimmages this spring, and “won” the Black and Gold Game 61-58, thanks in large part to defensive backs Martez Manuel and Ennis Rakestraw Jr. who got involved in coverage on several occasions, swatting down passes. Quarterback-turned-safety Shawn Robinson and Kris Abrams-Draine, a receiver on last year’s squad, also broke up a number of passes.

“I was really thrilled with the way the defense started out in the red zone,” Drinkwitz said. “That’s always a very difficult situation, and those guys really responded with their backs against the wall.”

Kickers/Punters: A

Harrison Mevis and Sean Koetting scored the most points out of probably anyone on the offense, thanks to a ton of field-goal attempts. Mevis, who started last year and made 17 of 20 field goals, will likely be the starter again in 2021.

Grant McKinniss punted a few times with quite a bit of loft as well. His longest punt of 2020 was 66 yards.