PowerMizzou - Position Reset: Offensive line
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Position Reset: Offensive line

The second Missouri football season of the Eli Drinkwitz era has come and gone. The Tigers started the 2021 campaign slow, losing early swing games at Kentucky and Boston College and getting blown out by Tennessee, but then rallied late to win six games and attain bowl eligibility. After falling to Army on the final play of the Armed Forces Bowl, Mizzou finished the season 6-7.

Now, it's time to take stock of the roster. Missouri, like virtually every other team, has already seen several players enter the transfer portal since the season ended. More attrition is expected. In this series, we'll go position by position to break down which players are expected to return and where the team could stand to add a difference-maker. In this edition, we conclude our look at the offensive side of the ball by breaking down the offensive line.

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Left tackle Javon Foster (76) and left guard Xavier Delgado (72) both figure to factor into the starting competition for Missouri in 2022.
Left tackle Javon Foster (76) and left guard Xavier Delgado (72) both figure to factor into the starting competition for Missouri in 2022. (Liv Paggiarino)

2021 Recap

On paper, the Missouri offensive line put together a solid 2021 campaign. The Tigers allowed just 19 sacks, which tied for 21st best nationally. The line also cleared the way for tailback Tyler Badie to rush for a single-season school record 1,612 yards and 14 touchdowns.

Missouri's offensive line certainly deserves credit for those things — especially considering it dealt with a fair amount of personnel fluctuation due to injury. Center Michael Maietti and left tackle Javon Foster were the lone players who started every game at the same spot, and both put together solid seasons. Maietti was named to the all-SEC first team and a second-team All-American by the AP. The Tigers lost star right guard Case Cook to injury after five games, rotated at left guard all season and had to make do without starting right tackle Hyrin White for the final few weeks of the regular season.

However, the offensive line wasn't without flaw. Particularly against higher-end competition, the unit had its share of struggles. Missouri allowed 79 tackles for loss on the season, which tied for 82nd nationally. The Tigers were held under 125 rushing yards by Kentucky, Tennessee, Texas A&M, Georgia and Florida. Not coincidentally, the team lost four of those five games. Also, part of the reason Missouri struggled to generate a consistent downfield passing game was due to protection concerns. All things considered, Marcus Johnson's unit put together a solid season, but expect the Missouri staff to work to continue to upgrade the offensive line moving forward.

2022 Outlook

Departing: Michael Maietti, Case Cook

There's still quite a bit of uncertainty about which Missouri players will return up front. The one certain departure is Maietti, who finally exhausted his eligibility after six collegiate seasons. Maietti started all 23 games at center for the Tigers across the past two seasons and finished this year as the team's highest-graded player by Pro Football Focus. He will be missed.

There is a trio of other linemen who would have finished their college careers under normal circumstances but have another season left to play due to 2020 not counting against anyone. Two of those players, White and backup tackle Zeke Powell, did not participate in Missouri's Senior Day festivities prior to the team's final home game of the season, suggesting they plan to return in 2022. Cook, meanwhile, was honored on Senior Day, but he has not publicly announced whether he will declare for the NFL Draft or return to Missouri. Health could be a factor, as Cook's 2021 season was ended by a shoulder injury that required surgery.

Returning: Javon Foster, Hyrin White, Connor Wood, Xavier Delgado, Luke Griffin, EJ Ndoma-Ogar, Zeke Powell, Bobby Lawrence, Drake Heismeyer, Mitchell Walters, Connor Tollison, Richard Taylor

Even if Cook does not come back for a final season, Missouri will return seven offensive linemen who have made at least one start in a Tiger uniform, so the competition for next season should be crowded. As mentioned above, Foster started all 13 games this year at left tackle and performed well. He will be the favorite to retain that spot. White started 11 games at the opposite tackle position, only missing two due to injury. Powell also has starting tackle experience, although all of that came in 2020. Lawrence provided depth at tackle, as well.

Wood, a Montana State transfer, served as a Swiss army knife for the Tigers this season. He played meaningful snaps at left guard, right guard and right tackle. Ultimately, he appears most likely to play on the interior of the line moving forward. Delgado and Griffin rotated at left guard, with Delgado starting eight games there and Griffin starting five. For what it's worth, Griffin graded out better according to Pro Football Focus, and he played much more than Delgado down the stretch. Ndoma-Ogar, a former four-star recruit who transferred to Missouri from Oklahoma prior to last season, could also factor into the mix at guard as well. Ndoma-Ogar played sparingly in his first season as a Tiger, although in the one game in which he saw extensive action, against South Carolina, he performed well. Lastly, Heismeyer and Tollison backed up Maietti at center last season and figure to factor into the competition to replace him, although Tollison could play elsewhere on the line, as well.

Incoming: Bence Polgar, Valen Erickson, Armand Membou, Tristan Wilson, Deshawn Woods

Speaking of replacing Maietti, the top candidate to do so appears to be another transfer from New Jersey. Polgar announced his commitment to Missouri earlier this month after starting 11 games at center for Buffalo last season. He has three seasons of eligibility remaining.

Polgar will be joined in the 2022 recruiting class by at least three other offensive lineman. Erickson, Membou and Wilson have all signed with Missouri. It seems unlikely any will play a regular role during his first season on campus, as foregoing a redshirt is rare on the offensive line. Woods has committed to the Tigers, as well, although the four-star prospect has not yet signed a National Letter of Intent and his enrollment status is currently up in the air.

Projected Starters: TBD

The two tackle positions seem pretty cut and dry, barring injuries of course. But the interior of the offensive line could shake out a number of different ways. It wouldn't really come as a shock if any combination of Delgado, Griffin, Ndoma-Ogar and Wood landed the starting guard positions. And while it would certainly make sense for Polgar to take over for Maietti given that no one else on the Missouri roster has started a college game at center, don't count out Tollison there.

Spring Practice storyline to watch: Does Polgar immediately get inserted into the starting spot at center, or could that competition bleed over into fall camp? And if Polgar does earn the starting center spot, does Tollison move elsewhere on the line? The Missouri coaching staff raved about Tollison last season, with one of the compliments being that he could play any position on the line, so it wouldn't come as a surprise if they try to get him on the field somewhere.

Previous Positions

Quarterback

Running back

Wide receiver

Tight end


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