Eli Drinkwitz brought along a lineman to SEC Media Days. Does this hint at the confidence he has in that group?
Believe it or not, fall camp is approaching quickly for Mizzou Football. To prepare you, we’ll be previewing each position group with a roundtable Q&A every Monday.
It’s not every day that you see an offensive lineman show up at SEC Media Days, but that’s just what Eli Drinkwitz made happen when he brought Case Cook along. Was Drinkwitz making a statement about his O-Line with Cook’s inclusion?
Nate Edwards, Football Editor: I mean, the man said it himself, “…just to emphasize to our team and to really our fan base that it’s got to start at the lines of scrimmage for us to be successful.” Just remember, if you ever ask yourself, “Why is [Coach X] doing [whatever it is they are doing]” the answer is always “recruiting”. And by bringing two linemen – one of which, Cook, was a captain last year – is him telling any and all recruits listening that he is valuing what they do the most and looking to add the best to Mizzou. Based off of Drink’s early recruiting efforts, and wins, with highly rated linemen I’d say he’s backing up that claim effectively.
Aaron Dryden, Staff Football Analyst: Case Cook makes a lot of sense to me. He was voted a team captain last year, and he has played a lot of good football for Mizzou. To the question though, I do think there was some intent to bring a couple linemen to media day. Missouri has made it clear that they’re building themselves in the trenches, and what better way to show it than giving a little spotlight to a guy who doesn’t get it enough of it for how good he has been.
Josh Matejka, Deputy Site Manager: Drinkwitz has been pretty clear about his emphasis on the line of scrimmage (on both sides of the ball), and I believe centering two linemen at his first SEC Media Days was a savvy move to follow his messaging. Drinkwitz has changed Missouri’s recruiting level since his arrival, but Missouri will never truly compete for SEC titles until they can hold their own on the line of scrimmage. By putting two beefy boys in the limelight, Drinkwitz put forth his modus operandi: “We’re gonna build around the linemen, and if that’s where you play, this is where you can be a star.” Drinkwitz is nothing if not a brilliant marketer.
The line was a point of concern coming into this year, but Drinkwitz was able to assuage some concerns by bringing Michael Maetti back into the fold. How does his presence change your perception of the line?
Nate Edwards, Football Editor: The center is the quarterback of the offensive line, and arguably one of the smartest offensive players on the field, so having Jersey Mike make an encore appearance for one more year is huge for both line continuity and offensive stability. Who fills out the two deep is a different issue/question but having the alpha of the group return to call out protection shifts and help steady the unit overall is certainly a plus.
Aaron Dryden, Staff Football Analyst: Maietti was such a stabilizing force for that offensive line last year. Drink getting him to return was a big deal just because it gives the younger guys more time to develop. Maietti has been playing high level D1 football for a while now, so it helps having an adult across the line who is familiar with a lot of different situations and will be another piece of continuity for the 2021 team.
Josh Matejka, Deputy Site Manager: Maietti’s veteran presence on the line was evident for anyone who watched a snap of Missouri football last season. The offensive line wasn’t exactly a fortress, but they far exceeded expectations (at least they did mine), and it started with Maietti up front. Bringing him back to lead a veteran squad and oversee the growth of a few younger guys (see next question) should prove invaluable in the coming years, even after he’s gone.
Aside from the returning experience, Drinkwitz was able to upgrade the overall talent level by bringing in EJ Ndoma-Ogar from OU and keeping Connor Tollison in state. Does that bump in talent level start to pay dividends in 2021… or will it take some time?
Nate Edwards, Football Editor: It’s rare for a true freshman offensive lineman to see heavy rotation on the offensive line, so unless Tollison is the second coming of Elvis Fisher or Evan Boehm, I certainly would not bank on him contributing quality snaps in 2021. Ndoma-Ogar, however, is certainly a guy I’d keep my eye on throughout the year. You don’t bring in transfers to have them ride the bench and EJ certainly has the build and pedigree to fill in at either guard position. While Case Cook will most definitely have one guard slot on lock down, left guard could be a position that EJ could fill. Xavier Delgado – 2020’s starter in that position – certainly wasn’t a major hindrance or anything but missed some games due to injury. As every coach in America says, “every position is open to competition” so having Delgado, Ndoma-Ogar, and Luke Griffin push each other for starter reps can only be good for the line as a whole.
Aaron Dryden, Staff Football Analyst: Potentially it could. I think both guys could be in the two-deep, but there will be a lot of guys with experience under their belt. That’ll make it difficult for either Tollison or Ndoma-Ogar to come in and take a starting spot.
There is value in having guys who are good enough to start, however, and that’s important in a league as physical as the SEC. There will be opportunities at some point. In addition to the first five starters, it’s going to be important to identify a swing tackle, a swing guard and a back up center. Those positions are really important, too. That’s how I think that talent is able to make an impact in 2021. I think in 2022, you’ll start to see a more obvious inclusion of some of these younger, more highly touted guys.
Josh Matejka, Deputy Site Manager: It may not show itself in the impact those players make right away… but rest assured that the increased talent in the depth can only improve the overall quality of the line. I’m sure Connor Tollison won’t be beating anyone out for their starting job as a true freshman, but Alabama was after this guy for a reason. As he grows, his natural ability will only push the regular starters to stay focused on their execution. The same could be said of Ndoma-Ogar, though I think the chances of him getting some semi-meaningful snaps this season are pretty high.