Mizzou camp preview: Offensive line
It’s been an offseason like no other for the Missouri football program. The Tigers fired four-year head coach Barry Odom following a 6-6 2019 campaign, replacing him with Eliah Drinkwitz. Drinkwitz cleaned house on the offensive side of the ball, then just after the team began holding spring practices, the COVID-19 pandemic hit college sports. Missouri had to cancel 12 of its 15 originally scheduled practices, as well as the Black and Gold game, in the spring. While the team was able to return for voluntary strength and conditioning workouts this summer, which have since transitioned to mandatory practices, the Tigers have still only once taken the field in pads under Drinkwitz’s watch.
Despite all the uncertainty that continues to swirl around the 2020 season, the SEC took a step toward having a college football season on Thursday. The league announced that each team would play a 10-game, conference-only schedule beginning Sept. 26. Missouri and the rest of the league are still set to start call camp practices Aug. 7. So, each day between now and then, PowerMizzou is previewing the Tiger roster one position group at a time, breaking down the depth chart and providing the storylines to watch for what should be the most important fall camp in recent memory. Today, we round out the offense by taking a look at the offensive line.
Earlier in the week, we noted that Drinkwitz had called the quarterback position “the biggest question on our football team right now.” While that may be true thanks to the outsized importance of the position, which players will protect that quarterback can’t be far behind
Missouri lost three starters from its 2019 offensive line: tackle Yasir Durant, guard Tre’Vour Wallace-Simms and center Trystan Colon-Castillo. The trio combined for 110 career starts in a Missouri uniform. All the returning players on the roster have combined for just 24. Add in the fact that the offensive line struggled at times last season even with Durant, Wallace-Simms and Colon-Castillo, and new offensive line coach Marcus Johnson figures to have his hands full trying to assemble an effective fivesome on such short notice.
There are only two players who look like safe bets to start along the offensive line right now: senior Case Cook and graduate transfer Michael Maietti. Cook, a redshirt junior, bounced back from a rocky 2018 campaign as he was arguably Missouri’s best offensive lineman while playing left guard a season ago. The coaching staff added Maietti, a graduate transfer from Rutgers, to the roster in April. Maietti started 33 games at center for the Scarlet Knights, so he should be able to fill the void left behind there by Colon-Castillo.
The other three offensive line positions should be wide open during camp. The most experienced players vying for them will be Larry Borom, Hyrin White and Bobby Lawrence. Borom started 11 games a season ago, beginning the year at left guard before transitioning to right tackle. His versatility and experience should give him a decent chance to earn another starting spot this season. He actually took over the right tackle spot from fellow redshirt junior White, who struggled at times during his two starts. Lawrence, a redshirt sophomore, also got one start at the right tackle spot.
A host of other players should be in contention for those final three starting spots. We’ll run through them in order of experience.
Senior Angel Matute joined the roster last offseason. Matute might be the most versatile player on Missouri’s roster — he started his football career as a quarterback, then transitioned to tight end, then to tackle (where he was recruited by the Tigers) before spending most of his time as a backup center last season. He seems like a long shot to play significant snaps, however. The staff added another junior college offensive lineman this week — stealthily, we might add. Former South Alabama lineman Zeke Powell arrived on Missouri's campus this week by way of Coffeyville Community College. There are a couple ways to look at Powell's addition. On one hand, with only 81 scholarships available this season as a result of NCAA sanctions, Drinkwitz and his staff might not bother bringing in a player they didn't think could contribute. At the same time, someone who played sparingly for South Alabama and started just five games for a junior college team that went 4-7 last season doesn't profile as an instant-impact addition. Time will tell if Powell has a chance to see the field this year.
Xavier Delgado, Mike Ruth and Javon Foster each redshirted the 2018 season and played at least a few snaps a year ago. Delgado and Ruth project as likely interior linemen, while Foster, who was sidelined by a leg injury for part of last season, could make a push for playing time at tackle. Of the four linemen added to the roster in the 2019 recruiting class, only one, Thalen Robinson, burned his redshirt. Robinson mostly played on special teams, but teammates and coaches alike raved about his play in practice. Robinson can play both center or guard, but will likely focus on guard this season as he tries to land the starting spot opposite Cook. Luke Griffin and Jack Buford both redshirted a season ago. Finally, the staff added three freshmen linemen in the 2020 cycle in Drake Heismeyer, Dylan Spencer and Mitchell Walters, but it would be a surprise if any played right away.
Storyline to watch
We won’t just be monitoring which offensive linemen get the first crack at starting and ultimately emerge from fall camp with the jobs, but whether Missouri can build the necessary cohesion up front to improve upon last season’s performance. Given that so few players in the group have meaningful experience and the team has had less practice time together this offseason than ever before due to the cancelation of spring practices, that could be a significant challenge.
We need to stress here that any prediction made about Missouri’s offense as a whole, but especially the offensive line, is not based on much. It’s impossible to know how a new coach is going to evaluate the group, and the only players we’ve seen play meaningful snaps are Borom and Cook. However, because we know we’d be accused of being boring if we didn’t submit a guess, we’ll say Maietti starts the season at center, Cook and Robinson at the two guard spots and Borom and Lawrence at tackle.