Eli Drinkwitz in no rush to name Mizzou's starting quarterback but Brady Cook will open camp at No. 1

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — When Missouri football preseason camp begins in a few weeks, returning starting quarterback Brady Cook will take the first-team snaps.
“There’s very little doubt about that,” Tigers coach Eli Drinkwitz said here Monday shortly after arriving at the Grand Hyatt for the first session of SEC football media days.
But that doesn’t guarantee Cook will be the starting quarterback when Mizzou's season kicks off against South Dakota on Aug. 31.
Cook, who has started MU’s last 14 games going back to the Armed Forces Bowl in 2021, underwent surgery on his right shoulder in January but was fully cleared to begin throwing earlier this spring. Redshirt freshman Sam Horn and Miami transfer Jake Garcia are the other top contenders in what Drinkwitz continued to describe Monday as “an open competition.”
“I think (Cook) has had a really good summer coming off an injury, but no different than every position on the field there's nothing guaranteed and everybody's got to battle for their positions,” Drinkwitz said. “Jake Garcia has started games, played in college football games. Sam Horn is a very talented redshirt freshman and that they gotta go beat him out but they know it's an open competition to do that. But Brady will have the benefit of being a starter all last year. He's been in the fire. We know what he's gonna do under pressure. But we all understand that we have to be more explosive offensively. We got to throw the ball more effectively down the field. And whoever does that the most effective in fall camp knows that they're going to be the guy, no different than the edge position or the wide receiver position or the safety position. Whoever plays the best in fall camp is going to start.”
Horn, the former four-star prospect, played only one series in one game late last year against New Mexico State, while Garcia, another four-star prospect, joined the team in January after appearing in eight games at Miami last fall. Cook, 6-8 as Mizzou’s starter, sat out live drills during spring practices while recovering from surgery for a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder. He’s been throwing since late spring and recently took part in the Manning Passing Academy.
“He attacked the rehab,” Drinkwitz said. “Obviously he was pushing it probably further than we wanted him to in the spring. I think he was anxious seeing other guys compete for a position and he wasn't able to be out there battling. But he's done a great job this summer … with (the coaches) having the ability with the summer access to watch those guys throw some routes during our individual development periods was really good. But again, it's going to be about consistently throwing the ball vertically down the field.”
Horn is the least seasoned of the three contenders — he completed 1 of 2 passes for zero yards in his one appearance last year — but Drinkwitz insisted Horn can make up for his inexperience with a strong August.
“Absolutely,” he said. “You've got the ability to go live in fall camp because of the amount of depth that we have at that position. And that's when we really are going to find out. I think the other thing last year I pulled the trigger really early on (naming Cook) the starting quarterback. You look back at a couple of teams last year that went into Week 2 and Week 3 before they named the starter. So, no hurry.”
Last year, Drinkwitz named Cook the starter over Horn, Tyler Macon and seventh-year veteran Jack Abraham just a week into preseason camp.
“I say this to our guys: ‘The starter is going to be whoever reveals it to the team,’” Drinkwitz said Monday. “It's not gonna be the coaches’ pick. Whoever the best player is, all the players will know it. So we'll give it time and see who rises to the top.”
Could Drinkwitz delay naming a starter until after the season’s first game? He alluded to other teams going with that strategy last year. Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh played two quarterbacks to open the 2022 season against Colorado State and Hawaii before settling on J.J. McCarthy, who led the Wolverines to the Big Ten championship and the College Football Playoffs.
Drinkwitz wouldn’t rule out a similar approach. The Tigers open against South Dakota, their FCS opponent, then host Middle Tennessee on Sept. 9.
“I think so," he said. "I think with the way our schedule sets up, I could easily see us playing multiple quarterbacks in Week 1 or Week 2 if we needed to.”
More from Drinkwitz’s 20-minute session with local reporters ….
• Two players will miss the season and be shifted to medical scholarships: wide receiver Chance Luper and linebacker Xavier Simmons. Luper, a projected starter last year, missed the entire season after suffering complications from a blood clot in his lungs diagnosed shortly before the first game.
• Offensive line transfer Cam’Ron Johnson will get the first shot at becoming MU’s No. 1 center. The All-American Athletic Conference addition from Houston played every snap at right guard last season but has experience snapping the ball. “Great player,” MU left tackle Javon Foster said. “That’s all I have to say: Great player.” As for the rest of the O-line, Drinkwitz said four of the five positions are essentially settled: Foster at left tackle, Xavier Delgado at left guard, Armand Membou at right guard and newcomer Marcellus Johnson at right tackle, a transfer from Eastern Michigan.
“We know we have to run the ball more effectively,” Drinkwitz said. “We’ve got to protect the quarterback. Last year our quarterback was under pressure. You look at our inability to complete balls vertically down the field, specifically in the bowl game, our our quarterback pressure situation was ridiculous.”
• Drinkwitz expects to go with a committee at running back led by Cody Schrader and Nate Peat, who clocked the fastest 40-yard dash time among all offensive players this offseason. Tavorus Jones, Michael Cox and freshman Jamal Roberts (St. Mary’s) will also push for carries.
“I think all five of them had the potential to contribute,” Drinkwitz said, “but I think it'll be mainly seeing what Cody and Nate do first.”
• Despite the loss of All-SEC slot receiver Dominic Lovett to Georgia, Drinkwitz called Mizzou’s wide receiver group “by far the deepest, most competitive position on our team.”
Luther Burden and Mekhi Miller have settled into roles as the team’s top slot receivers, while Drinkwitz said Mookie Cooper has been “Mr. Consistent” this offseason as an outside receiver. Oklahoma transfer Theo Wease Jr. will play the X position on the outside. Drinkwitz also mentioned Ole Miss transfer Dannis Jackson, Peanut Houston, converted safety Ja’Marion Wayne and freshmen Josh Manning, Daniel Blood and Marquis Johnson as contenders for major roles.
“There’s many good receivers we have now,” cornerback Kris Abrams-Draine said. “I don't know who’s going to start or how they’re going to do it because I feel like any of them can go in and start right now.”
• One name consistently mentioned by Drinkwitz and his players here Monday: defensive end Johnny Walker Jr. He’s got a chance to start on the edge with the loss of All-SEC pass rusher Isaiah McGuire and has put together a strong offseason. Darius Robinson will play both end and tackle this fall, while three transfers will push for snaps on the outside, too: Joe Moore, Nyles Gaddy and Austin Firestone. Also, redshirt freshman D.J. Wesolak has moved back to defensive end after playing some linebacker last season.

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