COLUMBIA, Mo. — Members of the University of Missouri's new-look offensive line know there are people doubting them going into the 2016 season, but the group is getting good reviews so far in camp.
The Tigers are trying to replace four starters — five if you want to include Nate Crawford, who had to retire from football due to back issues — from a year ago and doing so with just one player, Alec Abeln, with starting experience.
Senior defensive tackle Rickey Hatley, who spoke with reporters on Monday morning, said this year’s offensive line is performing better than last year’s group that included NFL draft picks Evan Boehm (Arizona Cardinals) and Connor McGovern (Denver Broncos).
How much better?
“I feel like way better,” Hatley said. “They’re coming off the ball harder. They are finishing through the whistle. The offensive line coach (Glen Elarbee) is on them like each and every rep, yelling at them all the time. But I see more fire in their eyes and stuff like that. They are finishing through the whistle.”
Asked who, in particular, was stepping up along the OL, Hatley pointed to several players, including a mix of veterans and newcomers.
“Paul Adams. Kevin Pendleton. Alec Abeln. Tyler Howell coming in is pretty good,” Hatley said. “That new dude from Memphis (Michael Stannard). I don’t know his name yet. He’s doing pretty good, too. Paul, I see the leadership with him and Kevin Pendleton.”
The Missouri defensive line, led by end Charles Harris, has received plenty of praise going into the 2016 season but Hatley admitted the offensive line has taken it to the defensive line at times in camp.
“I can’t lie, yeah, they is,” Hatley said. “They are coming off the ball way harder. They are finishing through the whistle. That’s why there’s a lot of fights going on, because we didn’t expect that from them to come off finishing the way they do. It’s pretty good, though. I love seeing that from offensive linemen.”
Hatley added that the difference is encouraging after last year’s struggles along the offensive line.
“The new coach, Coach Elarbee coming in, it’s a big difference, a big change on the offensive line,” the senior defensive tackle said.
Elarbee, the team’s first-year offensive line coach, was a guy who impressed Missouri head coach Barry Odom in the past, including a year ago when Odom was Missouri’s defensive coordinator and Elarbee was Arkansas State’s offensive line coach and co-offensive coordinator.
The Tigers won that matchup, 27-20, but Odom was impressed with the adjustments Elarbee made throughout the game.
Now Elarbee is making adjustments to the attitude of the Tigers’ OL.
“They’re definitely more nasty,” Missouri senior middle linebacker Michael Scherer said. “Our offensive line coach is a little cuckoo so they take after him, or they are trying to. Definitely more nasty, for sure.”
There are plenty of people doubting that the Tigers’ new-look offensive line can help make a difference this fall after last season’s struggles up front.
The Tigers are out to prove the skeptics wrong.
“When they found out that people were like doubting them, you could tell during practice they had a chip on their shoulder,” senior linebacker Donavin Newsom said. “They’ve been practicing even harder, staying after practice and getting extra work in.”
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