Mizzou camp preview: Quarterbacks

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. We start with the position that Drinkwitz admitted at SEC Media Days represents the biggest question mark for the Tigers: quarterback.

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Ever since Connor Bazelak struggled to close the 2021 regular season and then transferred to Indiana, Missouri fans and coaches alike have wondered who would quarterback the 2022 Tigers. On the eve of fall camp, we still have no idea.

Drinkwitz has said Missouri will host an open competition for the starting spot behind center. The contenders to land the job are Jack Abraham, a seventh-year senior who last saw the field for Southern Mississippi; redshirt sophomore Brady Cook, who started the Armed Forces Bowl loss to Army; redshirt freshman Tyler Macon and true freshman Sam Horn.

While Drinkwitz has said each of the four above players will get a chance to compete for the starting job, he also acknowledged Monday that the staff has to identify a couple quarterbacks to split the majority of first-team reps during camp so that they can build chemistry with the starting offense. We are going to speculate that those players will be Abraham and Cook, as they’ve long seemed like the frontrunners to win the starting job.

Abraham has had a circuitous college career that began at Louisiana Tech in 2016. He didn’t see the field during his first season there, then transferred to Northwest Mississippi Community College. A productive year led him to Southern Miss, where he started for three seasons (when healthy). In 2018, he led the nation by completing 73.1 percent of his passes. He remained accurate across the next two seasons, as well, but interceptions became a problem. He threw 29 picks in 27 games at Southern Miss.

A concussion prematurely ended Abraham’s 2020 season after five games. He then transferred to Mississippi State, but a second concussion suffered during summer workouts forced him to sit out the entire 2021 campaign. Drinkwitz said Monday he’s back to full health. His early impression of Abraham since he arrived on campus is that his experience — the trait Missouri valued most in searching for a transfer quarterback — has been visible.

“He’s got a lot of wisdom,” Drinkwitz said. “He’s had a lot of experience playing college football. He understands the process of being in a quarterback battle. This is not new for him. I don’t think a whole lot of things are taking him by surprise. Those are the intangibles, those are the things that when he decided to ultimately choose the University of Missouri, we knew those were known quantities coming in.

“We haven’t thrown interceptions yet. You can’t go against the defense in individual skill development. We’ll see how those things transpire, what the mental toughness looks like, if you’re not getting the reps you want, or somebody else is excelling that day.”

As for Cook, the St. Louis product has looked solid during his limited on-field action. He’s completed 52 of 65 passes and thrown three touchdowns with no turnovers. Against Army, he went 27-34 for 238 yards with one touchdown through the air, plus another 53 yards and a score as a rusher. His mobility would provide a dimension to the offense that Abraham likely would not.

While the quarterback question mark has played a role in expectations outside the Missouri locker room being lowered this season, Drinkwitz emphasized at SEC Media Days that he doesn’t view the uncertainty behind center as cause for concern.

“College football is great because every year there’s players who burst onto the scene,” Drinkwitz said. “… I know that we’ve got talented players at the quarterback position. And we’re just waiting for them to show the team which one’s going to be the starter.”

Drinkwitz has been adamant that Macon and Horn will also have a chance to compete for the starting job, regardless of whether or not they work with the first team during camp. But we’re listing them in this section because we have to break this thing up somehow.

Macon, a former four-star prospect out of East St. Louis, made one start last season, on the road at eventual national champion Georgia. He displayed toughness but struggled a bit with accuracy, completing six of 13 passes for 74 yards. In three games last season, he completed nine of 17 passes for 143 yards and a touchdown while rushing for 50 yards and another score.

We can now safely say that Horn will be part of the quarterback room, as he wasn’t selected during this week’s MLB Draft. The nation’s No. 72 prospect in the 2021 class been much hyped since he committed to Missouri in February of 2020. While it would seem unlikely that a true freshman who didn’t participate in spring practices could start his first college game, we won’t completely rule it out. Regardless of whether Horn is in line to start, his performance during camp will be of much intrigue, as he’s been billed as Missouri’s quarterback of the future.

Obviously, who ends up starting behind center on Sept. 1 will continue to be the biggest storyline surrounding Missouri. (Don’t be surprised if Drinkwitz doesn’t name a starter prior to the opener, regardless of whether he identifies one.) But ultimately more important is whether that player, whoever it is, can be more effective than Bazelak was during the second half of last season. The Tigers appear to have some playmakers at running back and wide receiver, but if the offense doesn’t have anyone who can deliver them the ball, it will be a long season.

Based on how Drinkwitz handled the quarterback position at the end of last season and throughout the offseason, our guess is the starting competition comes down to Abraham and Cook. We’d give the slight edge to Abraham considering Drinkwitz seemed determined to bring in a transfer during the offseason. But not much would surprise us.

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