The first Missouri spring football practice under new head coach Eliah Drinkwitz is in the books.
The Tigers began training at the Kadlec Practice Fields on Saturday morning, Drinkwitz’s first opportunity to see in action the players he will be coaching this coming season.
The No. 1 thing that stuck out to the 36-year-old, visor-wearing coach?
"We’ve got to get a lot better," he told reporters after the session.
Spread across three separate fields were over a dozen recruits and plenty of the Missouri staff’s children. Drinkwitz estimated there are 14 children of staff members currently under the age of 12, including his four daughters.
Perhaps the biggest news out of the first practice was that junior tight end Daniel Parker Jr. has suffered a non-football-related eye infection that Drinkwitz anticipates will keep him out indefinitely.
Sophomore wide receiver Maurice Massey and junior linebacker Cameron Wilkins were also held out of Saturday’s practice with undisclosed injuries.
Still, it was the start of a new chapter in Columbia.
Here are five questions surrounding the Tigers this spring:
1. What will be different about the program this year?
Drinkwitz is the first truly new blood to be atop the program since Gary Pinkel took the helm in 2001.
Former head coach Barry Odom didn’t disrupt his predecessor’s structure too much, but as with any changing of the guard, there will be changes — some big and some small.
Small changes on day one included the quarterbacks wearing green during practice instead of yellow. Additionally, there are now speed bags used by boxers to train before a fight with the words "All In" painted on them at the end of the turf field.
"That’s family business. We’ll keep it in the family," Drinkwitz said of the speed bags.
There also were six newcomers, four freshmen and two transfers, who didn’t have jersey numbers.
As for larger changes? Well, there’s still plenty of time for that.
"Nothing’s given, everything's earned," Drinkwitz said. "They haven't earned a number yet. They'll 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. ... Nobody new has earned that right yet."
2. Does any quarterback emerge as the favorite to start?
There were five quarterbacks participating Saturday: Taylor Powell, Shawn Robinson, Connor Bazelak, Brady Cook and a walk-on. While not much of Drinkwitz’s offense and full plans will be known until the season opener in September, Robinson was seen getting the first crack at many drills during the day.
Bazelak started last year’s season finale against Arkansas before tearing his ACL in the first quarter and needing surgery in December.
Powell played the rest of that game against the Razorbacks, started against Georgia and also saw playing time against Kentucky.
Robinson sat out last season after transferring from TCU. He played in 14 games for the Horned Frogs.
"There's no No. 1 quarterback, there's no No. 1s on anything," Drinkwitz said. "It's a new team, it's a new coaching staff. I told our guys there's no starting positions out of spring. I don't care how good you play in the spring. August will determine who plays that first play. And our No. 1 core value is always compete.
"The only thing better than a little competition is a lot of competition. And so anybody can be the starting quarterback and there's no (No. 1) right now for sure."
3. How quickly will a new-look offensive line develop chemistry?
No position group at Missouri lost more experience over the offseason than the offensive line. Three of last year’s starters graduated or opted to enter the 2020 NFL Draft (Yasir Durant, Tre’Vour Wallace-Simms and Trystan Colon-Castillo).
There are still veteran players on the O-line, including Case Cook, Hyrin White and Larry Borom, but replacing the trio of departed standouts and finding a rhythm among the current group will be a challenge the Tigers start to face in the coming weeks.
Under new offensive line coach Marcus Johnson, Missouri looks to gain cohesion quickly and be ready to battle mammoth defensive lines in the Southeastern Conference.
"We still bring some experience back," Cook said. "There’s a lot of guys that are eager to prove themselves and a lot of guys that have the capability to be great players. So I’m excited to go through the spring and the summer and the rest of the offseason to see what everyone’s made of and what everyone can do.
"It’s completely wide open no matter if you’ve played or not. You have to come out here and earn your keep."
4. Will having three holdovers from Odom’s staff help continuity?
Of Odom’s 10 full-time assistant coaches, only three are still in Columbia and all are on the defensive side.
Defensive coordinator Ryan Walters, defensive line coach Brick Haley and defensive backs coach David Gibbs were all retained, while seven new faces joined Drinkwitz from places such as TCU, Appalachian State and Washington.
Walters is now the longest-tenured full-time coach, joining the Tigers in 2016 along with Odom.
While the offense will be retooled over the coming months, the defense appears to have a foundation already set with many integral players such as Joshuah Bledsoe, Kobie Whiteside, Tyree Gillespie and Nick Bolton back for 2020.
"This year, I’m focused on being more of a leader, leading by example, communicating, encouraging. All the little things that we need to be a good football team, I’m going to do that this year," Bolton said.
5. Whose stock will rise most during spring practice?
Practices in March and April are completely internally focused. There’s no loss on its record that Missouri can take until 48 hours before Labor Day.
So which players get the inside track for more playing time or a starting role come the season?
The spring game April 11 will be an indication of what to expect.
"The whole team looks so good right now," Missouri senior defensive back Adam Sparks said. "Everybody has been gaining consistent weight. Everybody’s been getting faster and stronger.
"Right now, everybody’s been locked in."