Mizzou camp preview: Cornerback
On Sept. 1, Missouri will kick off the third season in the Eli Drinkwitz era with a home matchup against Louisiana Tech. The entire month before then will be used to prepare for a campaign that feels like it could go a long way toward defining Drinkwitz's Missouri tenure.
Fall camp, the official start of full-time practices, will begin Aug. 1. Each day between now and then, we will get fans set for camp by breaking down the Tiger roster one position at a time. In today's preview, we examine the contenders for playing time at cornerback, where Missouri lost three of its four most experienced players during the offseason.
Missouri has seen a lot of turnover in the defensive backfield since the end of last season. Not only did Steve Wilks, who coached the cornerbacks in addition to coordinating the defense, leave for the NFL after one season with the Tigers, Akayleb Evans and Allie Green IV both graduated, while Ishmael Burdine transferred. All three of those players started at points last season.
The one sure thing about the secondary, though, is that Kris Abrams-Draine is going to be on the field as much as possible. Abrams-Draine switched from the offensive side of the ball to defensive back last season and immediately found a home. The rising junior totaled 37 tackles, seven pass break-ups and three interceptions while primarily playing nickel corner. Drinkwitz said at SEC Media Days that Abrams-Draine will likely move to the outside under new defensive coordinator Blake Baker, but he should still be a shoo-in to start and likely tasked with covering the opposing team's best receiver most weeks.
Opposite Abrams-Draine, Ennis Rakestraw would seem like the most obvious pick to start, but there are some question marks. Mainly, how healthy is Rakestraw after a knee injury ended his season after four games last fall? Rakestraw started all 10 games as a true freshman in 2020 and started four a season ago, so he has plenty of experience, but he's struggled a bit with consistency, and he wasn't able to practice in full during spring practices. If the staff doesn't think Rakestraw is ready to start on Sept. 1, DJ Jackson would likely be the next man up. Jackson got pushed into action as a true freshman last year, appearing in 11 games and starting three. For the most part, he performed well, especially in Missouri's win over Florida. Even if Jackson doesn't start, he could see regular snaps when the Tigers go to a dime look.
A pair of newcomers could be in line for playing time, as well. Texas A&M transfer Dreyden Norwood was one of the hottest names during spring ball. Norwood, a former high school quarterback, didn't play during his lone season in College Station, but the coaching staff spoke highly of the redshirt freshman's performance once he arrived on Missouri's campus. L.J. Hewitt, a transfer from the junior college ranks, wasn't on campus during the spring, but he has some game experience at corner. Hewitt recorded 18 tackles and an interception in nine games with Holmes C.C. last fall.
Rounding out the cornerback room are Davion Sistrunk and Marcus Scott. Sistrunk only appeared in one game while he redshirted last season, that being Missouri's blowout win over Southeast Missouri. He was touted as raw but athletic out of high school, so perhaps after a year in the program he can factor into the conversation for playing time. Scott, a four-star signee in the 2022 class, earned some praise from Drinkwitz during the spring, but it's currently not known whether he will be a full participant in camp as he recovers from knee surgery. It would be a surprise if Scott plays a major role at corner as a true freshman, but a special teams contribution could be in the cards.
Camp Storyline to Watch
Does Missouri have enough serviceable depth? In each of the past two seasons, the cornerbacks have been hit particularly hard by injuries, leaving the group undermanned at the end of the year. Missouri has a couple proven players in Abrams-Draine and Rakestraw, but behind them, how steep is the drop off? The Tiger coaching staff knows from experience that the team can't get through a season with two guys at corner.
Abrams-Draine is a virtual lock to start. We'll give the slight edge to Rakestraw at the other cornerback position, but it wouldn't be a surprise if he and Jackson split snaps to open the season, or even if Jackson wins the starting job outright. Norwood rounds out the two-deep.