Coming into the spring, Missouri returned three starters along the offensive line from their 12-2 SEC East and Cotton Bowl Championship squad, and there were questions about how Missouri would rebuild their offensive line. Relatively early in the spring, it had become evident, at least from the standpoint of the starting five, that most of those questions were being answered in the affirmative.
Coach Walker and Coach Henson opened Spring Football with senior Mitch Morse having made the move from right to left tackle, a move that definitely appeared to agree with Morse. From the first practice of the spring, and throughout the spring, Morse was better at left tackle than he had ever been at right tackle, or anywhere else he's played along the offensive line. Maybe he just got better? Or, maybe he's finally playing where he plays the best? Whatever the case, Morse looked good this spring at left tackle, and he told ShowMeMizzou.com that he feels more comfortable playing left tackle than he did playing on the right side.
Prior to the start of Spring Football, the coaching staff made another bold move in moving junior Connor McGovern from right guard to right tackle. Again, this is a move that yielded very positive results throughout the spring. I think McGovern surprised everyone, including the coaches, with how well he played at right tackle this spring.
Of course, junior Evan Boehm returned this spring to again man the center position. And, he's just gotten better! Boehm has his sights set on being the best center in the conference, and the way he played this spring, he just might reach his goal.
That's three returning starters, and two new positions. Again, prior to the beginning of the spring, two very large individuals, senior Anthony Gatti, and junior Mitch Hall, were each installed at left and right guard, respectively. Add two new starters. Kudos to the coaching staff for identifying their five best offensive linemen heading into the spring, and putting them in the right positions. That was the same five that finished the spring as the starters, and barring injuries, that same starting five will almost certainly open fall camp. Throughout the spring, that five-member unit was individually and collectively very effective, at times bordering on being dominant, especially in the run game.
In truth, that first-team offensive line was so effective this spring that the focus associated with the offensive line was shifted to identifying and developing the backups. I think everyone just recognized that this is Missouri's starting offensive line. Typically, after the Missouri staff identifies their top five offensive linemen, then the task becomes about identifying their number six offensive lineman, their number seven offensive lineman, their number eight offensive lineman, and so on.
Based on what I saw this spring, it appears that sophomore Jordan Williams finished the spring as the Tigers' number six offensive linemen. He spent the spring working at left guard with the second-team offensive line, although he took a good number of reps at left guard with the first-team offense. He appears to be the one second-teamer who is the closest to the starters in terms of his level of play. In most instances, I think he'd be the first man in. And, I think he'd hold up his end, without a huge drop-off. He's an improving player with athleticism and a pretty high ceiling. By the time we get to September, the young Williams may even be challenging for a starting job.
After Williams, it becomes less clear as to the identity of the next man in. And, it becomes more of a question with respect to having capable, starter-quality offensive linemen who are ready to step in and compete at a championship level.
Late in Spring Football, second-team left guard, senior Stephen Carberry, a walk-on, was also taking reps with the first-team offense, although I'm less certain of his readiness for a starting assignment. But the fact that he was taking those first-team reps seems to suggest the coaches are considering him for an emergency role.
Early in the spring, the coaches moved junior Taylor Chappell from right tackle to left tackle, where he spent the rest of the spring working behind Morse. Like Morse, Chappell appeared to be a better fit at left tackle than he was on the right side. He appeared to be more confident and more mobile playing on the left side.
Junior Brad McNulty spent the spring as the back-up center, although he also worked quite a bit at guard. At the conclusion of the spring, McNulty was probably viewed by the staff as one of Missouri's top eight or nine offensive linemen.
Red-shirt freshman center Alec Abeln also took reps with the second-team offense, and he showed a lot of promise. He's still in the development stage, but he's getting closer to being ready to challenge for one of those top eight spots. Maybe he'll be ready by August?
At this juncture, McNulty would probably be the next center to come on the field, but Abeln is on the rise, and it appears to be just a matter of time before he lays claim to the back-up center spot. By September, Abeln could be ready, and that would give the Tigers some added flexibility, as McNulty would then be available to provide insurance at both guard and center.
The final second-teamers are a pair of young right tackles. Red-shirt freshman Clay Rhodes began the spring as the number two left tackle. But he quickly switched places with Chappell, and he finished out the spring on the right side. Rhodes didn't progress this spring like I had hoped he would. But, an even younger right tackle progressed beyond everyone's expectations. From the outset, true freshman Michael Fairchild, an early enrollee fresh out of high school a semester early, showed more mobility than expected, and he was quickly moved from right guard to right tackle, where he performed so well that at halftime of the Black & Gold Scrimmage, he was named the Most Improved among Missouri's offensive linemen.
Late in the spring, Fairchild and Rhodes were splitting reps with the second-team offense, and at the conclusion of the spring, it appeared that Fairchild had pulled to nearly even with Rhodes for that second-team spot.
Now, the competition continues into the summer. The goal for the starters is to remain healthy, and to continue to develop chemistry and continuity. For the back-ups, the goal is continued individual development, including increased overall strength and agility, and improved implementation of technique.
From the standpoint of the offensive line as a whole, the spring has to be viewed as a success. The way that the first-team offensive line came together and performed is very encouraging, and some steps were taken in identifying and developing at least a little depth, although there's still a lot of work to be done, especially regarding the latter.
65 Mitch Morse 6'6" 305 (S)
62 Taylor Chappell 6'5" 300 (J)
66 Adam Ploudre 6'4" 295 (RSF)
52 Jordan Hill 6'2" 270 (RSF)
70 Anthony Gatti 6'6" 315 (S)
76 Jordan Williams 6'3" 295 (So)
59 Kyle Starke 6'4" 310 (J)
58 John Reid 6'3" 280 (RSF)
77 Evan Boehm 6'3" 315 (J)
63 Brad McNulty 6'4" 300 (J)
57 Alec Abeln 6'3" 290 (RSF)
73 Mitch L. Hall 6'5" 320 (J)
51 Stephen Carberry 6'5" 300 (S)
64 Will Johnson 6'2" 280 (So)
69 Mitch H. Hall 6'2" 290 (J)
60 Connor McGovern 6'4" 310 (J)
72 Clay Rhodes 6'5" 300 (RSF)
68 Michael Fairchild 6'5" 286 (F)
54 Nick Monaghan 6'2" 245 (J)