Inside Mizzou's Player(s) of the Year

With the Independence Bowl only a day away, we end our list of the top players of the season with our Player of the Year. Well, make that Players of the Year. We give the honor to two senior offensive linemen who anchored the Tigers' running game and gave Brad Smith the chance to throw all season.

SHREVEPORT, La. -- When the NFL Draft comes this spring, there will be two Missouri players widely looked at to help professional offenses.

And their names aren't Brad Smith or Zack Abron.

They are the same players who Gary Pinkel looked at when he came to Missouri to revive a sputtering offense and a sputtering team. They are offensive linemen A.J. Ricker and Rob Droege, Inside Mizzou's Players of the Year and offensive MVPs.

Ricker and Droege came to Missouri in 1999. Ricker, the wild party boy from Klein, Texas and Droege, the serious student, paired together as roommates their freshman year. Despite their differing personalities, Ricker and Droege got along together, and four years later, they anchored one of the nation's best offensive line.

Try and remember how many times Smith didn't have enough time to throw. It wasn't too many. Smith always had time, but he hasn't fully developed his ability to read defenses quickly. The offensive line, anchored by Ricker and Droege, gave him a chance to throw despite that.

Running the ball, not too many were better than Missouri this season. In fact, only seven teams ran better than the Tigers this season, and Missouri had its first season with two 1,000-yard rushers in school history.

The offensive line took more of its fair share of the grunt for the early season problems instead of putting more on Smith's lack of passing improvement. But the line more than made up for it the end, and it was a fitting end for Ricker and Droege, who stuck with Missouri through the coaching change and then led the Tigers to their best season in five years.

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