This spring, there was so much movement of players along the Missouri offensive line, it was a challenge just to keep up with who was playing where. A good bit of the movement was experimentation by the coaching staff to allow them to get a look at guys in different spots, and against various levels of competition, but some of it did seem to have a more permanent, or at least less temporary, feel to it.
As expected, and predicted here at ShowMeMizzou.com, just-arrived junior college lineman Malik Cuellar quickly climbed the Depth Chart at the left tackle position, and he finished out the spring working with the number one offense. But he’s still got a lot of work to do to be ready to hold down that starting job this fall, so the coaching staff is not handing him the job.
Missouri’s best offensive lineman, senior Connor McGovern, began the spring at his familiar right guard spot. He suffered a knee injury that kept him out the final week or so of the spring, and at the conclusion of Spring Football, Missouri coaches were saying that McGovern would begin fall camp as the starter at left tackle.
Coach Ricker said that McGovern would open fall camp at left tackle so they could “get a look at him” in that position. Coach Ricker also stated that Cuellar might play some guard.
This spring, Cuellar improved week by week, and he showed the athleticism that suggests he’ll be the Tigers starting left tackle this fall. But he still has a lot to learn, and a lot of room for improvement, so it appears to me that the coaches simply want to serve notice to Cuellar that he hasn’t arrived, and that he’s going to have to continue to work hard and improve if he’s going to win that starting job.
One of the other more significant and potentially more permanent moves made this spring was the move of sophomore Nate Crawford to right tackle, where he began the spring working with the second unit, and where he moved even with and finally slightly ahead of sophomore Clay Rhodes. That was one of the more closely contested competitions of the spring. And it’s far from over, as the Tigers move into the summer and fall camp. They each took a lot of reps at right tackle, and both players performed pretty well. At the conclusion of the spring, Crawford was named Missouri’s Most-Improved Offensive Lineman.
But both sophomore right tackles were served notice, when at the end of the spring, Coach Ricker said that when junior college offensive tackle Tyler Howell arrives, he’ll probably begin competing at right tackle.
That was kind of the theme along the offensive line as Spring Football came to a close. Coach Ricker and the Missouri staff continued to issue challenges to Missouri’s offensive linemen, highlighting the depth of the quality competition for starting jobs that will be ongoing up front.
Another theme of the spring along the offensive line was that with all the moving parts, the units lacked continuity. But they’ll emphasize developing continuity during fall camp.
“(This spring) we mixed and matched a lot of offensive linemen,” explained Coach Pinkel. “But we’re going to have to settle down with where we’re going to keep guys. We moved them around so that we could kind of know better what to do going in to August. We’re going to have to settle down there. We’re going to have to keep guys at certain spots, only move the experienced guys, and let the guys get good.”
The one starting spot that was constant all spring, and that does appear to be settled heading into the season is at the center position where senior Evan Boehm is consistently performing at a high level.
Behind Boehm, sophomore Alec Abeln spent the entire spring working with the second unit. And, red-shirt freshman Andy Bauer spent the majority of the spring working as the third-team center. He also worked some at third-team left guard.
Senior Brad McNulty, who can and has played center, began the spring on the sideline. After Spring Break, McNulty worked his way back in at left guard, where he finished the spring working primarily with the second unit behind senior Taylor Chappell. Chappell had moved from left tackle to left guard when Cuellar moved ahead of him on the outside. Lots of moving parts.
Senior Mitch Hall and red-shirt freshman Kevin Pendleton began the spring 1-2 at left guard and finished the spring 1-2 at right guard. Pendleton is a rapidly improving and very talented interior offensive lineman who demonstrated this spring that he’s on the cusp of being ready to challenge for a starting job at one of the guard spots.
Another rapidly improving and athletic red-shirt freshman offensive lineman, Sam Bailey, moved from third-team right tackle to second-team left tackle. Once Bailey made the move to second-team left tackle, he was tasked with blocking starting right end Charles Harris. That was quite a challenge for him. Like everyone else, he struggled to block the relentless Harris.
Red-shirt freshman Paul Adams worked at left tackle all spring. He began the spring with the second unit, and concluded Spring Football working with the third-team offense.
Junior offensive lineman Jordan Williams may have moved around more than anyone. He played just about everywhere along the offensive line this spring. At the beginning of the spring, he was listed at second-team right guard. At the end of the spring, he was working at right guard with the third team, as well as at left guard and at both tackle spots with the fourth-team offense.
Red-shirt freshman Michael Fairchild also moved around quite a bit this spring. He began the spring at third-team left guard, and closed out Spring Football at third-team right tackle.
It appears to me that coming out of the spring, the Tigers have about nine starter-quality, or near starter-quality, offensive linemen. I think it’s fair to say that the Tigers haven’t had this kind of quality depth along the offensive line in a long time.
The Tigers always try to put their five best offensive linemen on the field together. McGovern and Boehm are currently Missouri’s two best offensive linemen, and as such, they will be in the starting lineup. Beyond that, it appears that there are three starting jobs up for grabs.
The potential is there for Missouri to have a much-improved offensive line this year, particularly if some of the younger guys are able to continue to improve and forge ahead in the competitions for starting jobs.
Post-Spring OL Depth
LT 70 Malik Cuellar 6’5” 300 (J) 56 Sam Bailey 6’4” 270 (RSF) 64 Paul Adams 6’6” 285 (RSF) 60 Connor McGovern 6’4” 310 (S) (injured)
LG 62 Taylor Chappell 6’5” 300 (S) 63 Brad McNulty 6’4” 300 (S) 66 Adam Ploudre 6’4” 295 (So) 54 Nick Monaghan 6’2” 245 (S)
C 77 Evan Boehm 6’3” 315 (S) 57 Alec Abeln 6’3” 290 (So) 78 Andy Bauer 6’3” 300 (RSF) 61 Adam Roland 6’2” 295 (RSF)
RG 73 Mitch L. Hall 6’5” 320 (S) 71 Kevin Pendleton 6’4” 302 (RSF) 76 Jordan Williams 6’3” 295 (J) 52 Jordan Hill 6’2” 270 (So)
RT 55 Nate Crawford 6’5” 285 (So) 72 Clay Rhodes 6’5” 300 (So) 68 Michael Fairchild 6’5” 286 (RSF) 65 Tanner Owen 6’5’ 280 (F) (injured)