The Missouri football team hasn’t yet played a game in 2020, but its roster is dwindling. On a Zoom call with reporters Wednesday afternoon, head coach Eliah Drinkwitz revealed that the team will be without 12 players for its season-opening matchup against Alabama on Sept. 26 due to COVID-19 quarantines. Additionally, wide receiver Maurice Massey and defensive tackle Chris Daniels have opted out of the season.
The number of players ruled out for the season-opener due to quarantine quadrupled in size since the last time Drinkwitz talked to reporters, on Saturday night. He brusquely noted that those numbers are based off tests performed Sunday. The team underwent another round of tests Wednesday and is awaiting results.
“That’s as of Sunday’s tests,” Drinkwitz said of the 12 absences. “We tested again today, so I anticipate — who knows. We’ll see. But that’s as of right now.”
Not all 12 players who have been removed from team activities have necessarily tested positive for COVID-19. NCAA protocols require those who test positive as well as “high-risk contacts” — in this case, mainly roommates — to quarantine for at least 14 days. Those players identified as high-risk contacts cannot shorten their time away from the team even with multiple negative tests. Drinkwitz said the team is holding all of its team-wide meetings and position group meetings via Zoom so players in quarantine can participate, but that is the extent of their involvement with the team.
As for Massey and Daniels, they represent the first two Missouri players to opt out of the 2020 season as a result of concerns about the coronavirus. Drinkwitz said that, while it may be possible for the duo to rejoin the team if they wanted to, based on their conversations, he doesn’t see them opting back in.
Massey played sparingly while redshirting in his first year on campus in 2019. He didn’t record a catch but seemed like a potential candidate for a larger role this season. Drinkwitz expressed optimism that the receiving corps would be fine without him. Daniels, a one-time Texas signee, has been buried on an experience-laden depth chart at defensive tackle since arriving on campus from Copiah-Lincoln Community College. Both players are able to rejoin the roster next season if they so choose.
“I’ve been up-front from the beginning: If somebody chooses to opt out, we have their back, we support them, and wish them well,” Drinkwitz said. “And then we carry on. We want to make sure that they’re taken care of academically and taken care of in the training room, whatever aspects we can help them, but we’re moving on with guys that want to be, that are wanting to play this year.”
Whether due to quarantine, opt-out or injury, player absences have made Drinkwitz’s challenging task of installing a new offense during a shortened offseason in advance of a 10-game, SEC-only schedule even taller. He noted that the offensive scheme has been installed, but the players are still struggling with execution because it’s been impossible to take reps with the same personnel.
“Overall install of the offense is in,” he said. “It’s the execution that’s flawed. And that’s just all based on reps, reps, reps, reps, reps. … Offensively you have to get all 11 people on the same page, and we’ve had a lot of different lineups. And that’s not ideal for cohesive football.”
Drinkwitz didn’t reveal which players have been quarantined, but he did say that the offensive line and specialists “are really struggling.” He said Saturday that first team offense featured five different left guards in five practices last week both due to injuries and quarantines.
“We’re already down a little bit on the offensive line, total number of bodies and injuries anyways, so those guys are having to get in quite a bit extra work,” Drinkwitz said. “But just gotta make do.”
Drinkwitz is unsure whether the virus has been transmitted through football activities. For much of the first two months that Missouri players were back on campus going through workouts and practices, he noted that there had not been any evidence of transmission in the football facilities.
Drinkwitz declined to speculate whether the Alabama game could be in jeopardy as a result of the latest round of positive tests, but he did say that, as of right now, the team would have plenty of available bodies. His message was similar to Saturday: He knows fans don’t want to hear excuses, so he won’t make any. The coaching staff will try to get the roster as ready as possible to face Alabama with the players on hand.
“They’re going to tee it up the 26th and everybody in Missouri is going to expect that we’re prepared,” Drinkwitz said, “so we’re gonna get ready.”