Eli Drinkwitz highlights notable performers from Missouri’s spring practices.

In Columbia, Missouri, the Missouri Tigers entered spring practices with three primary objectives: enhancing individual player development, identifying the team’s strengths and weaknesses, and fostering a distinct team culture and mindset.

Head coach Eli Drinkwitz expressed satisfaction with the team’s progress in all three areas, particularly highlighting the significant strides made by many players in terms of individual growth and improvement. During his wrap-up press conference on Wednesday, Drinkwitz discussed several standout performers.

One of the main challenges for Drinkwitz’s coaching staff this offseason is finding replacements for NFL Draft prospects Ennis Rakestraw Jr. and Kris Abrams-Draine. Junior Dreyden Norwood, who started in five games in 2023, is expected to step into a more prominent role in the upcoming season. Drinkwitz commended Norwood’s progress and described him as a top-tier player capable of making an impact in the SEC.

Additionally, Drinkwitz highlighted positive early impressions of Clemson transfer cornerback Toriano Pride Jr., noting his competitiveness and interception during the spring game. He also praised Ja’Marion Wayne’s transition from wide receiver to cornerback, emphasizing his contributions on special teams and his improvement in coverage.

At the safety position, Drinkwitz mentioned Houston Christian transfer Caleb Flagg and returning starter Joseph Charleston as notable performers. Charleston, in particular, has exhibited growth in leadership, attention to detail, and man-to-man coverage skills. Flagg was recognized as the defensive MVP of the spring game after securing an interception.

In the linebacker unit, which will undergo changes with the departure of Ty’Ron Hopper and Chad Bailey to the NFL Draft, Drinkwitz highlighted the performances of returners Chuck Hicks and Tristan Newson, along with Miami transfer Corey Flagg and incoming freshman Brian Huff. Despite Huff’s upcoming surgery to address a high school injury, Drinkwitz remains optimistic about his potential impact in the upcoming season.

On the defensive line, Drinkwitz praised the development of Austin Firestone and Joe Moore, who transferred to Missouri in 2023. He also commended freshman defensive lineman Jahki Lang for his physicality and growth. With opportunities arising due to departing players, sophomore Jalen Marshall has been recognized for his potential to assume a larger role.

Turning to the offensive side, Drinkwitz highlighted wide receiver Joshua Manning’s improvement and senior tight end Tyler Stephens’ strong spring performance. With changes anticipated in the offensive line following the departure of key players, Drinkwitz discussed the addition of Oklahoma transfer left tackle Cayden Green and the shift of returning starter Cam’Ron Johnson to left guard. Noteworthy performances among offensive linemen included senior Mitchell Walters, freshman Logan Reichert, and sophomore Jayven Richardson.

Drinkwitz also lauded running back Nate Noel’s impressive spring, emphasizing his potential contribution to the team’s offensive success.

As the Tigers continue their offseason preparations, they will focus on fostering team cohesion after prioritizing individual growth during spring practices. Their first game of the 2024 season is scheduled for Saturday, August 31 against Murray State.

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