Perhaps the biggest development along the offensive line this spring was the way that sophomore Mitch Morse handled the starting center job.
"He's athletic, he's smart, he's got good size," said Coach Pinkel, talking about Mitch Morse playing the center position. "He's probably one of the taller centers that we've had in there. He's a very, very bright guy. You know, he's 295-296 (pounds). You know, he's just got to smooth out a little bit the little things, as far as some of the snaps and things like that that we've got to get taken care of. You know, he's developed into a really good player."
Coach Pinkel also said that it "would be nice" if Morse ends up being the starting center for the next three years.
It will be nice to have sixth-year senior Elvis Fisher playing left tackle this season. This spring, Fisher was held out of the scrimmages, although he did get in on some of the 11-on-11 action after spring break. He'll be full go come fall camp, and his presence in the line-up will be most welcome.
Fisher wasn't the only offensive lineman to miss time this spring. Fisher was one of five offensive linemen who missed a significant amount of time this spring, including Travis Ruth, Anthony Gatti, Mark Hill, and Connor McGovern. Ruth played in the Spring Game. All are expected to be ready to play this fall, but for Gatti, Hill, and McGovern, each of whom missed all of spring football, the time lost this spring is a delay in their development.
Earlier, Coach Henson was talking about McGovern, but his words also apply to the other two developing players.
"You know, obviously it's disappointing, because you wish he was in there getting reps," said Coach Henson.
Earlier, Coach Henson had talked about how the injuries have forced him to take a wait-and-see approach, which he acknowledged is what they should do anyway.
"It's hard to evaluate, when you just don't know," explained Coach Henson. "And it's a hard thing too, when you go through periods of time where guys could really be improving. Like you know, Mitch Morse has been out there on the field, and he's really gotten a lot better. You wish the same thing was happening with guys like Anthony Gatti and Connor McGovern, but it's just not. It can't. It's the way it is. There's no other way to deal with it until we get to the fall."
So, the spring didn't answer all of the questions along the offensive line, but it was an opportunity for some critical pieces of the puzzle to develop and to gain valuable repetitions in practice.
Two key pieces to the Tigers depth did get in a lot of work this spring, in tackles Taylor Chappell and Chris Freeman. Chappell looked good in the Spring Game, and overall, he made strides during the spring, as he saw a lot of action at first-team left tackle. Freeman played right tackle all spring, and he too, saw action with the first team. Both players still have a lot of work to do, but they are both getting close to being able to play at the necessary level.
Another development this spring was the move of Brad McNulty to center. He took to that position very well, and had a very good spring. When Ruth was out, McNulty moved up to the first team at center, and Morse moved over into Ruth's vacated guard spot.
When he's healthy, Ruth is one of Missouri's best five. But this spring, Ruth once again demonstrated that he can't remain healthy for an extended period of time. For that reason, the Tigers must identify a starter-quality back-up behind Ruth, and have a ready contingency plan.
Earlier this spring, I had asked Coach Henson about Travis Ruth?
"I'd just like to see Travis have a whole year (of being) healthy," Coach Henson had replied. "You know? And not for us, just for him, just so he could go play and have fun! And just be healthy for a year, and play. Because I think if he could do that, I really think that he could be a good player. Our biggest focus with Travis is just getting (him) healthy through the rest of the spring and summertime, and getting his body in great shape."
In my opinion, if McNulty, who is the back-up center, is the next guy in when Ruth comes out, then McNulty needs to be prepared to play left guard, rather than moving Morse over to guard, as was done this spring. In that way, there's less disruption of the chemistry along the offensive line.
The right side of Missouri's starting offensive line was very solid all spring, with right tackle Justin Britt and right guard Jack Meiners. Britt took some reps at left tackle, to remain familiar with that position. Those two players give Missouri a right side of the offensive line that is talented, experienced, and very, very good.
A trio of other developmental players were healthy this spring, and each took advantage of the opportunity provided by the absence of others. Max Copeland, Nick Demien, and Mike Boddie each saw plenty of action this spring with the second-team offense, and at times Copeland took reps with the first-teamers. Each came out of the spring playing better than they ever have.
Going forward, it's my assessment that if the Tigers can remain relatively healthy throughout the 2012 season, that they can be pretty good up front.