'It's time to put up': Eli Drinkwitz shares message to Mizzou football fans ahead of 2021 season opener

Eric Blum
Columbia Daily Tribune
Missouri head football coach Eli Drinkwitz, right, talks with quarterback Connor Bazelak (8) during a game Nov. 21 at South Carolina.

Eli Drinkwitz on Wednesday will start month No. 22 at the helm of Missouri football.

He's still yet to coach a game for the school against a nonconference opponent or in a stadium without a capacity limit. 

Of course, both of those waits are expected to end at 3 p.m. Saturday with Missouri's season opener against Central Michigan at Faurot Field.

The Tigers played an all-Southeastern Conference regular-season schedule in 2020 and had their bowl game against Iowa canceled due to coronavirus concerns. 

While switching to a nonconference opponent in the Chippewas shouldn't shift how Missouri prepares for the game, entering a packed venue is something the Tigers haven't done since November 2019. 

Predictions:Mizzou football's path to eight wins in 2021 regular season

"It's time to put up. Really, we've done a lot," Drinkwitz said of his message to fans ahead of the season opener. "There's been a lot of people engaged in a lot of things over the last 18 months to try to get this thing going. A real credit to the city of Columbia. They've painted 'Mizzou' downtown. We've got Tiger paws on Champions Street. We've got some downtown initiatives. We've just kicked off Black and Gold Fridays.

"It's time. It really is time. Let's put it all together. I'm not promising victories and all that every Saturday. I'm just saying, 'Hey man, it's time to get in and let's get the fans here and let's go. Let's see what we can be.' We're excited to put a great product on the field and we're excited to play. Our guys have put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into this season and to this moment. Some guys have sacrificed a lot to come back. Some guys are sacrificing their bodies right now to try to get back in time, and it'd be awesome to be rewarded with a great crowd."

Memorial Stadium operated at a 20% attendance limit for all six home games last season, when just over 12,000 fans filed into their seats in a stadium that can hold 50,000 more spectators.

Drinkwitz hopes the program he's built since December 2019 is enough reason to come see the team live.

The Tigers went 5-5 last season in their league-only slate and were No. 25 in the College Football Playoff rankings after defeating Arkansas last December. 

According to the 247Sports Composite, Missouri's 2022 recruiting class ranks No. 18 nationally and sixth in the SEC.

Missouri releases first depth chart of season

Missouri released its first depth chart of 2021 on Tuesday with no major surprises.

Of the Tigers' 22 offensive and defensive positions 12 have clear first-team players, including the obvious choices of quarterback Connor Bazelak, right guard Case Cook, defensive end Trajan Jeffcoat and outside linebacker Devin Nicholson. 

Other position battles appear to have been won over the course of fall camp. Cornerback Ennis Rakestraw has earned a starting spot over more experienced teammates for the second straight season. Tulsa graduate transfer Allie Green is listed as the second-team cornerback in that spot. 

Xavier Delgado retained his starting position at left guard, as did Michael Maietti at center. 

The only true newcomer to earn a solo first-team spot is middle linebacker Blaze Alldredge, who transferred to Missouri from Rice over the summer. 

On special teams, Harrison Mevis has been named the starter at placekicker, while Grant McKinniss will handle punting duties again. 

Missouri wide receiver Kris Abrams-Draine (15) holds the ball while being held by a teammate during practice last year.

The sophomore duo of Elijah Young and Kris Abrams-Draine will handle kickoff returns. Abrams-Draine and D'ionte "Boo" Smith will be the Tigers' punt returner to start the season.

Abrams-Draine's responsibilities don't stop there. He's listed as a co-first-team nickel defensive back alongside Chirs Shearin. 

"In the recruiting process, we knew he was a dynamic athlete," Drinkwitz said of Abrams-Draine. "He played quarterback, played a little bit of cornerback. We knew he could play slot (receiver). Just felt like he had the ability to play a lot of different positions.

"And last year in the spring, without knowing where the depth and all the different things were going to be, we knew we had a need in that position. ... I think it's pretty remarkable for us to have two players who played significant minutes last year for us on the offensive side of the ball, in Week 1 on defense that are going to play significant minutes, whether it's Kris Abarams-Draine or Shawn Robinson.

"The only way you can do that is to dedicate yourself. No. 1, you've got to be a tremendous athlete. But you also have to dedicate yourself to knowing the schemes and put in extra work and extra hours. I know they have done that and I'm excited to see how that bears fruit for them this season."

Robinson is listed as a second-team strong safety behind Martez Manuel.

The nickel defensive back position is the only major defensive scheme change based on the depth chart. The last two seasons saw Missouri use a boundary safety alongside pairs of traditional safeties and cornerbacks. 

Contact Eric Blum at eblum@columbiatribune.com. Follow @ByEricBlum on Twitter.

Follow Mizzou football with the Tribune’s Tiger Extra newsletter. For more of the Tribune's Missouri athletics coverage, purchase a digital subscription.