COLUMBIA, Mo. — Alec Abeln has seen his role with the University of Missouri football team changed dramatically this offseason, going from being one of the youngest members of an experienced offensive line to one of the elder statesmen in a matter of months.
“It’s weird,” Abeln said following Thursday’s practice. “Nate (Crawford) and I feel like the old guys. Losing five seniors last year is definitely a void in leadership. There’s some personality changes in the room where it just feels different. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s just something that Nate and I really are having to figure out on the fly and kind of step up. But it’s been good.”
Abeln, who was recruited as a center out of St. Louis (Mo.) University High School, was moved to guard last season and started a few games at left guard. He alternated at left guard with Crawford, who started four games there and also started four games at right tackle.
“We get along pretty well,” Abeln said. “I think there’s a lot of young guys who wanted to play a lot last year and our hungry for that chance. There’s definitely guys who are unproven, but I look around the room and there are guys who are working real hard. I feel good about how we’re going to come together.”
This spring has been a learning process for Abeln and the Tigers with the shuffling on the offensive line, including some players missing practices due to injury and then trying to find what combinations work best up front.
But the offseason is when that stuff gets worked on and worked out.
“You play with so many different guys,” Abeln said. “You’ve got guys who naturally you play better next to or have different chemistry with as far as where guys’ feet are landing, something as small as that. Something this early in the spring you’re just working with a ton of guys and trying to gel with all of them.”
The Tigers are also getting used to their new offensive line coach Glen Elarbee, who joined Missouri after previously working at Arkansas State.
There’s a different vibe with Elarbee, Abeln said.
“He’s funny,” Abeln said. “He’s a good coach, he knows what he’s talking about. He’s coaching us hard, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. He’s got some quirk to him, which has definitely been light in the meeting rooms and kept it pretty easy.”
The Tigers have a new offensive line coach and a new-look offensive line, led by new veterans Abeln and Crawford, but they are hungry to improve after the struggles of the 2015 season when a 4-1 start was wiped out by six losses in the final seven games.
That makes this offseason similar to the one following the 2012 season, when Missouri finished 5-7 in the Tigers’ inaugural season in the Southeastern Conference. They followed up that disappointment with a 23-5 record over the next two years.
“I came in during 2013, which was after a 5-7 year, and saw how hungry those guys were during the summer,” Abeln said. “I think this spring is just an extension of that. It’s never a good feeling coming off a year like last year and I know personally I would have liked to have played a lot better. That definitely sticks with you as you’re working on stuff in the offseason. So I think as a whole we’re hungry. I think having a new coaching staff is a different vibe, it kind of keeps it fresh, but at the same time we’re definitely hungry.”