The switch has been flipped from basketball to football, and I figure the best way to dip our toes back in the water is to revisit my 2009 Walkthrough series from January and see what has or hasn't changed since then. We move now to the hosses up front.
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.
What's Changed? Nothing, and in the best possible way. Gregory is the rock-solid leader of the group, Fisher and Barnes are looking like strong returning starters, and Hoch and Wuebbels have solidified their starting positions.
Spring is very easy to over-interpret. You want to get excited that a given player or unit is doing well, but then you remember that they're doing well against another Mizzou unit, which is bad. You want to see both the offense and defense shining in a given moment, while at the end of the day, they basically fought to a draw. That's what it appears is happening with the OL and DL right now, and I couldn't be happier. In one article, you read that the defensive ends have been borderline unblockable in the spring, and then you read that the offensive line beat the defensive line in one-on-one drills.
It really is hard to overstate how big an underrated a great OL could be for this offense in 2009. For any offense, really. Ask Sam Bradford how important a great OL can be--if he doesn't know the answer now, he will in the fall, when an entirely new unit is trying to protect him after three seasons of basically the same personnel and continuity. Ask Clemson how an iffy OL can make your season very quickly fall apart.
Blaine Gabbert has looked pretty good thus far in the spring, and you read a lot about how he's able to buy time and sidestep pressure to make plays. But if he's not having to sidestep pressure that often when the real games start, if he has time to make some plays against Illinois and Nevada in the non-conference slate in September, then the expectations for this team could very quickly rise.
And as I mentioned in January, not only could this be a rock-solid O-line in 2009 (I still see it as the best in the North)...it will almost certainly be even better in 2010.
Expected Spring Finish - First String
LT - Elvis Fisher (So)
LG - Austin Wuebbels (So)
C - Tim Barnes (Jr)
RG - Kurtis Gregory (Sr)
RT - Dan Hoch (So)
Expected Spring Finish - Second String
LT - Taylor Davis (RSFr) or Mike Prince (Jr)
LG - Jayson Palmgren (So)
C - J.T. Beasley (So)
RG - Travis Ruth (RSFr)
RT - Daniel Jenkins (RSFr)
So we've taken another look at the offense as a whole now, and the youth and talent are pretty ridiculous. Two sophomores and two freshmen fighting it out on the QB depth chart. A junior (D-Wash) and sophomore (Moore) hogging the spotlight at RB. Two injured seniors (Danario, Perry) hoping to get back on the field and scrap to hold onto their starting jobs at WR as a host of youth (Jackson, Kemp, McGaffie, Woodland, Gerau) gets their footing. Two sophomores (Jones, Egnew) with a strangelhold on the tight end position for the next three seasons. And now, one senior on the two-deep at OL, with Chris Freeman, Jack Meiners and others waiting to break into the rotation a year from now. I'm excited about 2009--there has been plenty of encouraging news about how this team could look--but it's impossible not to keep the eyes from wandering toward 2010-11. This program is built for the long-haul.