PowerMizzou - Mizzou with two battles for starter on the offensive line
{{ timeAgo('2022-08-05 05:00:00 -0500') }} football Edit

Mizzou with two battles for starter on the offensive line

Disclaimer: Every job is open in fall camp and no one is guaranteed to start.

Reality: At least two and quite possibly three of Missouri’s spots on the offensive line are pretty settled.

Left tackle Javon Foster and right guard Connor Wood are going to be among Mizzou’s starting five come the night of September 1 against Louisiana Tech. Left guard Xavier Delgado will likely line up next to Foster, though he could get a bit of a push from Luke Griffin. But the other two spots up front should offer Mizzou fans some intrigue over the next four weeks.

Coming into camp, redshirt freshman Connor Tollison was expected to compete with Buffalo transfer Bence Polgar for the starting center job. Eli Drinkwitz let it be known on Monday that Polgar is ineligible for the season after Mizzou lost an appeal to the NCAA regarding an unknown issue from Polgar’s time at Buffalo. That left Tollison as the presumed leader in a three-man battle at center with Drake Heismeyer and Richard Taylor.

“He's really been embracing the competition,” Drinkwitz said of Tollison. “This summer has really dove into the playbook. He's very athletic. We knew that going in and he's very intelligent so he's got an opportunity now, you know, he's gonna be pushed by both Drake and Richard and it's a wide open competition.”

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“He's very intelligent,” Delgado said. “He's very football smart. He's really picking up on everything. He's, he's done. He's done an outstanding job in camp so far. He's really exceeded my expectations.”

Tollison didn’t come to Columbia as a center. He played mostly offensive tackle at Jackson High School, checking in at 6-foot-5, 285 pounds as a senior. But knowing they would be losing sixth-year senior Mike Maeitti after the 2021 season, the Missouri coaching staff quickly began working Tollison in snapping the ball when he arrived on campus last year.

“I snapped a little bit in high school just trying to be as good as I can because you never know,” Tollison said. “When I got here and fall camp rolled around, I got moved to center.

“At tackle you’ve probably got two, three feet to your opponent. At center, it could be six inches to a foot.”

Snapping the ball is the first part of the job, but also just a minor part. Delgado called the center position “the quarterback of the offensive line.” Tollison has plenty of responsibilities beyond getting the ball to whoever Missouri may line up at quarterback.

“Making the MIKE (middle linebacker) ID and then pass protection, slides,” Tollison said. “And then when things don’t go how you thought they were, the X’s and O’s don’t line up how you thought they were, you’ve got to make changes. That’s my job.”

Tollison looks to have the early upper hand to start at center
Tollison looks to have the early upper hand to start at center

The other job up for grabs this month is right tackle. With Hyrin White out for an undisclosed amount of time due to injury, returner Zeke Powell and true freshman Armand Membou are getting the early reps in camp.

“I feel really good about the competition,” Drinkwitz said. “Zeke started a bunch of games at left tackle his junior yea and then flipped over to right. I feel really good about that competition and when Hyrin gets back, add him back into the mix.”

Powell played 550 snaps as a junior in 2020 at left tackle after arriving in the summer from Coffeyville CC. Last year, he appeared in just five games for the Tigers. Missouri could always shift personnel around on the line if neither Powell nor Membou is ready to take on the full-time job, but those are the two who appear to be mainly in contention early.

Whoever wins out in these battles will have the advantage of playing alongside three returning starters. Foster played all 934 snaps a year ago while Wood rotated through a few positions and logged 631 snaps and Delgado saw 588. Both Wood and Delgado started eight games and appeared in 12 of Missouri’s thirteen.

“It doesn't matter if you’re Javon Foster or Woody or whoever,” offensive line coach Marcus Johnson said. “I’m gonna treat them all the same. That's my job and just assume nothing. I don't know if you’re ever comfortable with it, you know what I mean?”

Missouri will be breaking in a new quarterback and a new running back from a year ago. With two Power Five road games in the first four weeks of the season and an opener that comes two days earlier than most teams, time is of the essence in settling upon a starting five for the Tigers.

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