2010 Tiger Position Preview: Offensive Line

The Tigers appear to have the horses up front needed for a successful offensive year

Likely Pre-Season Depth Chart

72 Elvis Fisher  6'5" 300 (J)
74 Kirk Lakebrink  6'6" 320 (S)
79 Taylor Davis  6'4" 295  (So)
73 Mark Hill   6'6" 276 (RSF) (injured)
65 Mitch Morse  6'6" 280 (F)
Chris Freeman  6'9"  320  (F)
68 Justin Britt  6'5" 300 (RSF)
71 Jayson Palmgren  6'2" 305 (J)
64 Mike Cecero  6'7' 290 (So)
76 Quinn Brown    6'3" 245 (J)
62 Tim Barnes  6'4" 310 (S)
53 Travis Ruth  6'3" 305 (So)
69 Shawn Carey  6'0" 285 (RSF)
66 Austin Wuebbels  6'4" 305 (J) 
63 Dan Jenkins  6'4" 305 (So)
61 Max Copeland  6'3" 285 (RSF) 
78 Nick Demien  6'6" 295 (F)
77 Dan Hoch  6'7" 315 (J)
75 Jack Meiners  6'6" 305 (So)
70 Anthony Gatti  6'6" 280 (F)
73 Mark Hill   6'6" 276 (RSF) (injured)

Much of Missouri's offensive success this season will hinge on the effectiveness of the big guys up front. Entering fall camp, the Tigers are very solid at three of the five positions along the offensive line.

Heading into the 2010 season, senior C Tim Barnes has been placed on the Rimington Trophy watch list (nation's top center), and also has a spot on the watch list for the Outland Trophy (nation's top lineman). Most are projecting Barnes to be among the top centers in the country, and a likely draft pick next spring. He anchors a line which features a pair of returning starters in junior tackles Dan Hoch and Elvis Fisher, who are also very likely to hear their names called on draft day, in 2012. Fisher has started every game for Missouri in each of the past two seasons, and played the second half of 2009 with a torn labrum in his shoulder. Hoch started every game last season for the Tigers, after seeing the field in limited duty as a true freshman in 2008.

As stated, these three provide Missouri with the framework for a very good offensive line. Another returning starter, junior left guard Austin Wuebbels, will enter camp as the starter at one guard position. On the other side, I expect to see red-shirt freshman Justin Britt begin camp as the starting guard. From the first day of camp, a trio of candidates will be challenging Wuebbels and Britt for those two spots. Junior Jayson Palmgren, sophomore Travis Ruth, and freshman Nick Demien will each be pushing for one of those starting guard positions. Palmgren played extensively a year ago, and comes in as the most experienced of the challengers. Ruth is slated to open camp listed behind Barnes at center, but he'll also be in the competition at guard. He saw limited action last season. Demien is considered by the coaching staff to be physically ready to play in the Big 12. Demien will be among those who will be tried at center (as Barnes eventual replacement), as well as being looked at at tackle, and at guard. If he doesn't win a starting job, he could wind up being the back-up center, and/or a back-up tackle, or guard. The quickest path to the field this year however, is at guard, and that's where I expect to see Demien challenge for playing time this year.

Sophomore Jack Meiners will begin camp as the number three offensive tackle. He'll work on the right side, where he would play should either of the starters go down. There's also the possibility that Meiners could move inside and compete for a starting guard spot. Red-shirt freshman Mark Hill will open camp as the number two left tackle. He made significant progress this spring, after missing most of last season due to an injury. I'll be watching Hill with interest, as he continues to work toward game preparedness.

Freshmen Anthony Gatti and Mitch Morse will likely open camp at left and right tackle respectively. The search for Tim Barnes eventual replacement probably portends tryouts at center for each of these freshmen. The newest Tiger, freshman Chris Freeman will likely open camp at one of the offensive tackle spots. Freeman offers a high upside, and his presence at tackle may allow for the coaching staff to project guys like Britt, Demien, or even Meiners on the inside.

Senior walk-on Kirk Lakebrink, junior walk-ons Quinn Brown and Marvin Norman, sophomores Dan Jenkins and Taylor Davis, sophomore walk-on Mike Cecero, and red-shirt freshmen walk-ons Max Copeland and Shawn Carey round out the competition for spots on the depth chart along the offensive line.

The staff will be trying to identify their best five offensive linemen. After that, they'll be looking to identify the best replacements should anyone be sidelined due to injury. That includes identifying the number three tackle, the number three guard, and the back-up center. Those three spots could be manned by three different players, by a couple of different players, are by a single player.

The next step in the process of putting the puzzle together is identifying the second unit, the sixth through the tenth best offensive linemen. It's not been uncommon for more than five linemen to regularly work with the second unit, especially if the fourth or fifth members of the second unit are true freshmen. That allows for the preservation of a year of eligibility for that player(s).

It looks to me like the Tigers' offensive line has the pieces in place to come together and be pretty good this year. But, they can ill afford an injury to one of their big three, Barnes, Hoch, or Fisher. Depth is available in the event of an injury, but those back-ups are young and inexperienced. If the big three can stay healthy, then there's enough quality depth at the guard spots to complete the picture up front. It's entirely possible come September, that the Tigers could utilize a rotation of a couple of players at one or both of the guard spots.

Another aspect of providing depth along the offensive line is the potential for a starter at one position to double as the primary back-up at another position. This is important with respect to the more difficult positions along the line, such as left tackle, or center. For example, if Fisher were unable to participate for an extended period, the Tigers might consider moving Hoch or Britt to left tackle. Britt might be the primary candidate to replace Tim Barnes for an extended period, as well. He's viewed by the staff as having the ability to play all five positions along the offensive line.

During Gary Pinkel's decade at Missouri, I can only remember two offensive linemen who've played as true freshmen, Hoch and Meiners. Neither of them were starters during their first year. So, if Demien sees the field this year, he would only be the third freshman to do so, and if he were to win a starting job, he would become the first true freshman offensive lineman to start at Missouri under Coach Pinkel. Needless to say, I think that makes him a long shot to start, but I do like his chances of seeing the field this year.

I expect the other two freshmen will end up being red-shirted, and Hill may see limited action. So, I expect some combination of Britt, Wuebbels, Meiners, Palmgren, Demien, and Ruth will man the guard spots and provide for substitutions during games.

Analysis: The offensive line for 2010 looks very solid with the potential to be one of the better ones in the programs history if players such as Britt, Wuebbels and Demien live up to expectations this year.

The tackles Hoch and Fisher, along with center Tim Barnes all look to have pro potential, and Coach Pinkel himself has praised Justin Britt for his ability,and rightly so after the impressive spring he had as a difference maker at the guard position.

RG Austin Wuebbels has shown flashes of having similar ability to the others at times. If he finds the consistency needed to play the positions then the Tigers will have one of the best starting five in the conference and college football.

Jack Meiners would appear to be the sixth lineman in the mix. Not sure if he will be given an opportunity to see what he could do at guard. The spring would have been a great chance to do that, however, with Fisher's injury, it was more important to get him time at left tackle. He provides quality depth at either tackle position

Newcomer Nick Demien looks as if he will be in the two deep and likely play in at least spot duty this year. The question will be at which spot. While he will get a shot at seeing if he can play center along with other incoming freshman, he can more then likely make a quicker transition to one of the guard spots and is physically ready to play right now.

There is some solid depth with Palmgren and Ruth returning aling with a mix of promising freshman in Gatti, Morse and Chris Freeman.

The Tigers also will have some experienced walk-ons who did a nice job in the spring and will push for PT and position on the depth chart. Kirk Lakebrink, Mike Cecero and Shawn Carey fall into that category.

An emphasis was placed on improving the run blocking in the spring and it seemed to pay off.  How the line plays will determine the success of Gabbert and Washington as well as the 2010 season.

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