Missouri returns three starters along the offensive line from their 12-2 SEC East and Cotton Bowl Championship squad. As the Tigers head into Spring Football, the challenge along the offensive line is the development of some of the young linemen, and ultimately, the beginning of the process of identifying two more starters, as well as the primary back-ups.
Offensive Line Coach Bruce Walker has indicated that he'll be doing some experimenting this spring, moving players around along the offensive line in an attempt to create some depth through versatility, as well as to identify, and find the best positions for, his top 5-10 offensive linemen. There appears to be only one returning offensive lineman whose position is already determined, in junior starting center Evan Boehm. He's essentially the pillar around which Coach Walker will this spring begin to reconstruct Missouri's offensive line for the 2014 season.
Senior Mitch Morse, who played well in manning the right tackle position last season, will likely audition this spring for the left tackle job. And junior Connor McGovern, who held down the right guard job last season, will get a look at right tackle, in addition to the right guard spot that he played very well in 2013. I think it's safe to say that Boehm, McGovern, and Morse will enter, as well as emerge from, the spring as starters.
Senior Anthony Gatti, who was the next man in last season, and made 2 starts at left guard for the 2013 Tigers, will likely get the first shot at the right tackle job, although he will also likely take reps this spring at either or both guard spots. It's a safe bet that Gatti will begin the spring with the number one offense, and he's probably a leading candidate to emerge from the spring as a starter, but his inclusion among Missouri's top five offensive linemen heading into fall camp is far from a certainty. To begin with, he'll have to show that he can remain healthy enough to be able to stay on the field.
At the beginning of the spring, the fifth member of the first team offensive line will likely be slotted in at left guard, and there are multiple candidates to begin the spring there with the number one unit, including sophomore Jordan Williams, junior Mitch L. Hall, and junior Brad McNulty. Williams is the most athletic of that trio, Hall is the biggest, and McNulty is the most experienced of the three. In addition to those three, and Gatti and McGovern, the other candidates to potentially emerge from the spring as a starting guard for the Tigers are red-shirt freshman Alec Abeln, and a walk-on, albeit probably a long shot, in Stephen Carberry. I'll be interested in seeing how Abeln has progressed.
Two players who will likely begin the spring as second-string tackles could be the key to how Missouri's offensive line looks come August. Either of red-shirt freshman Clay Rhodes or junior Taylor Chappell potentially could emerge from the spring as a first-string offensive tackle for the Tigers.
Coach Walker referred to Spring Football as the laboratory where he will conduct his experiments, moving guys around along the offensive line to see who can do what, and once he's identified his five best offensive linemen, to see how they will best fit together. It's research and development that is essential for a successful season. It'll be very interesting to see how it all comes together.
Here is a projection of how the Depth Chart may look at the beginning of the spring:
65 Mitch Morse 6'6" 305 (S)72 Clay Rhodes 6'5" 290 (RSF)
66 Adam Ploudre 6'4" 295 (RSF)
64 Will Johnson 6'2" 280 (So)
76 Jordan Williams 6'3" 295 (So)
51 Stephen Carberry 6'5" 300 (S)
58 John Reid 6'3" 280 (RSF)
79 Adam Franklin 6'0" 265 (J)
77 Evan Boehm 6'3" 315 (J)
63 Brad McNulty 6'4" 300 (J)
57 Alec Abeln 6'3" 290 (RSF)
56 Robert Luce 6'2" 300 (S)
60 Connor McGovern 6'4" 310 (J)
73 Mitch L. Hall 6'5" 320 (J)
59 Kyle Starke 6'4" 310 (J)
69 Mitch H. Hall 6'2" 290 (J)
54 Nick Monaghan 6'2" 245 (J)
70 Anthony Gatti 6'6" 315 (S)
62 Taylor Chappell 6'5" 300 (J)
52 Jordan Hill 6'2" 270 (RSF)
68 Michael Fairchild 6'6" 286 (F)
This spring will also provide a first look at true freshman Michael Fairchild, who may likely start off at right tackle, but could also play guard.
There are three offensive linemen who bare watching very closely this spring, including Williams, Rhodes, and Chappell. If two of those three come out of the spring with a starting job, or in very close contention for starting jobs, then the spring will likely have been a huge success for Missouri's offensive line.