As we await Jeremy Maclin's late-morning announcement of whether he's going to be an NFL rookie or Missouri Tiger next season (we assume we know the answer, but we might as well wait around to be sure), let's move on to the 2009 offensive line, shall we?
I was going to break this preview up into tackles, guards, and centers, but this staff has made clear in the past that they look for the best players first, and then fit them into a position. So let's just look at all of them! Players below are listed in order of how I personally rank them.
One thing to note about the 2009 offensive line is that the biggest personnel change actually comes in the coaching staff. Dave Christensen was not only Offensive Coordinator--he was also the offensive line coach. Missouri has yet to name a replacement for that part of DC's job, and whoever they hire could be interesting to watch for two reasons: 1) you never know which players will be positively or negatively affected by a coaching change, and 2) you don't really know how this staff will be affected by a coaching change, as this is the first example of turnover in eight years for Pinkel's staff.
I guess we don't know for sure that DC's replacement will be an O-line coach, or if they will switch duties around, but either way, the primary coach for this unit will change in 2009, be it somebody already on the staff, or from elsewhere.
Kurtis Gregory (Senior, 6'5, 305)
Missouri's jack of all trades in 2008, Gregory is capable of playing any position in the trenches except maybe center (though I wouldn't count him out there either). When Dain Wise and Austin Wuebbels were failing to separate themselves from each other at right guard last August, the staff just moved Gregory over from left tackle, et voila! A competent right guard! While you notice some linemen for being super tall or super wide, Gregory just...is. He's nimble enough to play tackle and physical enough to play guard, and while I assume he'll stay at RG in 2009, he'll go wherever there's a hole to be filled.
Other than his diversity, Gregory is probably best known for just simply being steady. While Elvis Fisher struggled mightily against OSU, and Colin Brown got torched by Corey Wootton in the Alamo Bowl, and Ryan Madison (and everybody else, really) got lit up by the Texas defensive line, Gregory really never made himself noticeable, and considering being noticed as an offensive lineman is really bad 99% of the time, that's a great trait.
Elvis Fisher (Sophomore, 6'5, 290)
One of the more pleasant surprises of 2008, Fisher emerged as a solid left tackle on a 10-win team. The St. Petersburg, FL, product protected Chase Daniel's blind side with little to no problem, sans a few moments here and there (mostly the OSU and Texas games). He's mean and strong, and we've got three more years of him to go.
Plus, he's named Elvis, and with the loss of guys like Stryker and Ziggy from the 2008 squad, we're in dire need of some great names.
Tim Barnes (Junior, 6'4, 305)
How many bad shotgun snaps did you notice this year? Exactly. Tim Barnes is a keeper, the fourth straight high-quality center that Missouri has produced, after Rob Riti, A.J. Ricker, and Adam Spieker. Unfortunately, he has broken the string of 4-year starters, as barring injury he will only end up a 3-year starter. So...boo to that.
Dan Hoch (Sophomore, 6'7, 305)
Blaine Gabbert's good buddy (they were both committed to Nebraska before the Callahan regime crumbled to the ground) should have the inside track at replacing Colin Brown and creating a pair of high-quality sophomore bookend tackles. Hoch was a 4-star recruit out of Harlan, IA, #1 in the state, and his massive potential was revealed by one simple fact: he is the first offensive lineman to play for Gary Pinkel as a true freshman. He showed up on campus and was immediately able to grap the schemes and physically compete enough to work into the rotation. That tells you all you need to know about this kid's upside. Plus, he's got a brother who is apparently a pretty darn good DE and 2010 prospect. Family ties!
Austin Wuebbels (Sophomore, 6'4, 285)
Austin Wuebbels' career didn't necessarily get out on the right foot--the first time anybody had reason to notice him was when he was getting arrested for marijuana possession last April. However, Wuebbels rebounded from this personal setback (and the proceeding suspension) to challenge Dain Wise for playing time and ended up Gregory's backup at right guard. With Wise and Ryan Madison gone via graduation, Wuebbels will have the inside track at the starting guard position not filled by Gregory (don't know which one they'll have at LG and which at RG).
Jayson Palmgren (Sophomore, 6'3, 310)
Another 2008 backup, Palmgren was a solid 3-star recruit out of North Kansas City (#8 player in Missouri in 2007) and after spending 2008 as a RSFr backup, Palmgren could make noise in the starting guard battle against Wuebbels.
J.T. Beasley (Sophomore, 6'4, 290)
A sleeper recruit in 2007, Beasley specializes at playing center, and assuming he's still here when Barnes graduates, you have to figure he'll be the likely starting center in 2011.
Mike Prince (Junior, 6'4, 300)
A Southlake Carroll product, Prince is now one of the upperclassmen on this young but talented O-line. He seems capable of playing guard or tackle, and he should be a pretty palatable option should one of the younger players listed above not work out.
Daniel Jenkins (RSFr, 6'4, 290)
Here's what I've got to describe Jenkins' upside: OU (supposedly) tried to move in on him late in the recruiting process. Good enough for OU, good enough for Mizzou. Jenkins was the likely OL star of the 2008 class until Hoch came aboard, but he's reportedly a very athletic big guy, and spring football could see him doing anything from fighting for a starting guard position with Wuebbels and Palmgren, to fighting for a 2nd-string tackle position. We shall see.
Taylor Davis (RSFr, 6'5, 270)
Reportedly the most raw member of the 2008 class, consider him the Michael Egnew of the O-line--really high upside, yet not a guarantee to make a splash. We'll see what the redshirt season has done for him in terms of putting on weight and learning the schemes.
Travis Ruth (RSFr, 6'3, 305)
Another solid recruit from the 2008 class (#10 prospect in Missouri), this Jeff City native injured his foot in August and underwent surgery. A foot is not a good thing for a 300-pounder to injure, so we'll be watching in the spring to see if he's 100% recovered and ready to compete for a spot on the two-deep, likely at guard.
Brad Madison (RSFr, 6'5, 255)
Brother of now-former starting guard Ryan, the younger Madison was an interesting recruit when he signed simply because it was hard to project a position for him. Would he be a 260-pound defensive end? A 280-pound tackle? A 300-pound guard? The biggest question for him in the spring is, how much weight has he put on, and how is his frame holding it? Ryan was as invisible as a 2+ year starter can be, but he was solid and steady, and if Brad can do a decent Ryan impersonation, that's just more O-line depth for the future (plus, that could make the 2008 class of O-line signees the best and deepest Missouri has had).
Darris Ford (6'6, 290, St. Louis)
Ford was one of the first commits of the 2009 class--he's a big, mean Hazelwood East product and one of the top players in the state. However, there's a giant question mark with Ford now, as nobody knows specifically what his status is in this class after his suspension for threatening a teacher. He's consistently denied any wrongdoing, and as far as anybody knows he's still going to receive a scholarship from the coaching staff, but we might not have official confirmation of that until his name shows up on the Signing Day list.
Jack Meiners (6'6, 315, St. Louis)
Big Jack will come to Mizzou with a great nickname and size to burn. He's from Chaminade High School, and I have to figure he will start at offensive tackle.
Justin Britt (6'5, 270, Lebanon)
This year's major recruiting sleeper, Britt impressed Mizzou coaches at summer camps, was offered a scholarship, and almost intantly committed to Mizzou. Not much is known about Britt, but he's a great overall athlete--one of the best wrestlers in the state--and needless to say, with this coaching staff's track record, you almost assume that their sleeper signees are going to be really good.
Chris Freeman (6'9, 330, Trotwood, OH)
As far as any recruiting services can tell, Missouri has offers out to three more offensive linemen. Freeman is by far the most highly-touted of the three, and while he plans on visiting Columbia this month, Missouri appears to be behind Wisconsin and Tennessee in the race for his services. Dude is a GIANT, and I'd love to see a big guy like him in black and gold, but the odds aren't too high right now.
Mark Hill (6'6, 260, Branson)
Brother of former Arkansas center Steven Hill, Mark recently received a Mizzou offer. It appears his only other offer is from Dave Christensen at Wyoming, and you have to figure that Mizzou will win that battle. Like Britt, Hill appears to be a good overall athlete, and he'd likely be a welcome addition.
Will Lawson (6'8, 290, Belleville, IL)
Scout.com says Missouri has offered him, along with Kansas, Kansas State and Ball State, but he hasn't shown up on the Rivals radar yet--no articles since June, no reported offers. We'll see, but again...dude's huge, and it's easy to root for more size on the O-Line, especially since we'll now have a 6'5 QB instead of a 6'0 one, you know?
2008 vs 2009
We've talked a lot in this series so far about what a brand, spanking new QB needs to be successful--solid running back (check), go-to receiving option on third downs (check), and now, a rock solid offensive line. Check. Missouri has to replace Ryan Madison and Colin Brown in the starting lineup, but it's impossible not to be excited about the prospects of guys like Dan Hoch, Austin Wuebbels, Jayson Palmgren, etc. Missouri could be set at both tackle positions for the next three years, they have a potentially great center, and while the guard position isn't quite as hammered-out, this looks to be the best offensive line in the North Division. And as good as this line is in 2009, it should be even better in 2010.