Mizzou down to seven quarantined players for Alabama game
In his first game week press conference as Missouri’s head football coach, Eli Drinkwitz shared a litany of roster updates ahead of the Tigers’ season-opening matchup against Alabama. The team also released its first depth chart since Drinkwitz took over as head coach. Here’s a quick recap of the news.
We’ll start with the good: Missouri will only have seven players miss Saturday’s game against Alabama as a result of COVID-19 protocols. Drinkwitz had said last Wednesday that the team would have 12 players out due to either testing positive for the virus or quarantines mandated by the SEC for high-risk contacts. However, one of the tests that sent five players into quarantine was not positive but inconclusive. After further tests, PAE, the third-party company hired by the SEC to administer testing, deemed the test negative.
Even though he hasn’t revealed which players are in quarantine, Drinkwitz’s policy of sharing COVID-19 quarantine numbers within his team has stood in contrast to most of college football, including Alabama. Last month, Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley said he would no longer disclose the number of players impacted by the virus in order to maintain a “competitive advantage.” Asked about his decision to reveal the number of Missouri players in quarantine, Drinkwitz said he believes transparency should be the baseline during a public health crisis.
“This is a public health issue, it's not a competitive advantage issue,” he said. “This is not an injury. This is a public health issue and people should know, you know, what's going on within our football team as it relates to a pandemic, is where I would start. And I would say that that's probably, for me, more important than whatever competitive advantage we feel like it might be to win or lose a football game.”
Drinkwitz also revealed that Missouri added a familiar name back to its roster in defensive end Trajan Jeffcoat. Jeffcoat, who signed with Missouri in the class of 2018 and played in all 13 of the team’s games as a true freshman, missed the first several games of last season due to an elbow injury, then was removed from the team for an undisclosed reason before he could get healthy. Drinkwitz said Jeffcoat re-enrolled in the university in August and arrived to practice in good shape.
“Trajan’s re-acclimated himself,” Drinkwitz said. “He’s worked out on his own, is in good shape and he’s ready to compete.”
Jeffcoat could provide useful depth for Missouri, because Drinkwitz also revealed that Missouri will be without one defensive end for the Alabama game and another for the rest of the season. Senior Sci Martin will miss the season-opener with a knee injury. Drinkwitz said the team hopes to get him back in the lineup “in the next two weeks.” Junior Jatorian Hansford, meanwhile, will miss the entire season as a result of shoulder surgery he underwent during the summer.
A trio of offensive players will miss the entire year, as well. Drinkwitz announced that Hyrin White also underwent shoulder surgery that will sideline him for the rest of 2020. The redshirt junior was expected to compete for the starting job at left tackle, where a starter is still yet to be named. Senior tight end Brendan Scales has decided to medically retire due to a lingering foot injury. And offensive lineman Thalen Robinson has opted out of the 2020 season due to concerns about the coronavirus. Robinson becomes the third Missouri player to opt out, joining wide receiver Maurice Massey and defensive tackle Chris Daniels.
Between the opt-outs, injuries and COVID-19 quarantines, Drinkwitz estimates that Missouri will have 69 scholarship players available for the Alabama game. That’s still well clear of the SEC minimum of 53, although Drinkwitz said the team has been closer to the positional thresholds established by the conference. The SEC announced last week that teams should have at least seven offensive linemen, four defensive linemen and one quarterback available in order to play. Assuming no more players test positive for the virus, however, Drinkwitz does not believe Missouri’s ability to take the field against Alabama is in jeopardy.
“I mean, we got 69 scholarship players, so we're dangerously close to every threshold,” he said. “So, I mean, it is what it is. But we're not any closer today than we were in the past.”
The SEC did leave teams the option of playing with fewer than the minimum number of players at each of the above positions. Drinkwitz said the team would consider playing a game even if all three of its scholarship quarterbacks couldn’t take the field, but would likely not dip beneath the thresholds on the offensive and defensive lines for safety concerns.
“We have Wildcat (formation) built in in all of our game plans, so I think we're good from a quarterback situation if we need to in the game or just in the base part of who we are,” he explained. “On the defense side of the ball, there's protocols in there for a reason. Same thing with the offensive line. So we would probably let the protocols handle that.”
Depth Chart Takeaways
As expected, Missouri’s first depth chart of the Drinkwitz era did not reveal who would start at quarterback for the Tigers. But it did provide a bit of clarity elsewhere on the roster. Here are a few takeaways from the depth chart. It can be viewed in its entirety here.
-- Damon Hazelton is listed as a starting wide receiver. The staff added the Virginia Tech graduate transfer to the roster with the hope that he would serve as an instant-impact big-play threat, but Hazelton reportedly missed quite a bit of practice time during fall camp. Concern mounted about his availability as most newcomers to the team earned a jersey number, but he did not. It’s certainly possible that Hazelton doesn’t take the field Saturday, or that he’s rusty from not practicing, but the fact that Drinkwitz didn’t mention him in his injury report and that Hazelton is listed as a starter seems to bode well.
-- In addition to quarterback, the other starting spots on the offense that are still up for grabs, according to the depth chart, are tight end and left tackle. At tight end, Missouri lists three players — Daniel Parker Jr., Niko Hea and Logan Christopherson — as co-starters. The left tackle spot that likely would have been occupied by White will feature either Bobby Lawrence or junior college transfer Zeke Powell.
-- Only one true freshman earned a starting spot on the depth chart. That distinction belongs to cornerback Ennis Rakestraw, who memorably chose Missouri over Alabama on National Signing Day in February. Now, Rakestraw will line up opposite Alabama’s stud wide receiver duo of De’Vonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle. Rakestraw will start across from Jarvis Ware at corner, with Adam Sparks and Ishmael Burdine listed as the backups.
-- Martez Manuel beat out Stacy Brown for the starting strong safety spot. Fellow sophomore Chris Shearin, who spent last season as a cornerback, has apparently transitioned to free safety, where he’s listed as the backup behind Joshuah Bledsoe.
-- The specialist roles have apparently been decided. Kentucky graduate transfer Grant McKinniss will serve as the starting punter, and true freshman Harrison Mevis will handle the placekicking duties. Tyler Badie is listed as the starting kickoff returner, and true freshman Kris Abrams-Draine will apparently get the first crack at returning punts.