So we've gotten ourselves excited about the QBs and RBs, and we've talked ourselves into the WRs...what about the unit that ranked the highest of any Mizzou unit in 2009, the offensive line?
In 2008, Mizzou's offensive line ranked 16th in Sack Rate+ and 25th in Line Yards+. Including Mizzou, only seven lines managed Top 25 in both--Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Florida, Penn State, Oregon, and USC are the others...good company, to say the least. As I've mentioned many times, both of these measures are impacted by external factors. If your quarterback is particularly good (or bad) at evading the pass rush or escaping an imploding pocket, or if your running back manages to always fall forward or dances too much, your line numbers will be impacted. Without good game film, there's no way to cleanly and purely evaluate an offensive line.
That said, all signs point to Mizzou's offensive line as having been pretty rock solid in 2008. And all signs point to the same in 2009.
2008 Unit Ranking: #8 in the nation (#3 in the Big 12)
Projected Depth Chart
G Kurtis Gregory (6'5, 305, Sr.)
T Elvis Fisher (6'5, 300, So.)
C Tim Barnes (6'4, 310, Jr.)
T Dan Hoch (6'7, 320, So.)
G Austin Wuebbels (6'4, 305, So.)
G Jayson Palmgren (6'2, 305, So.)
T Daniel Jenkins (6'4, 305, RSFr.)
G J.T. Beasley (6'4, 295, So.)
T Jack Meiners (6'6, 305, Fr.)?
C Travis Ruth (6'3, 305, RSFr.)
T Mike Prince (6'3, 300, Jr.)
T Taylor Davis (6'4, 295, RSFr.)
Three burning questions:
1. What's the biggest concern here? At first blush, there's a lot to be excited about. You've got Kurtis Gregory, the Jose Oquendo of the Mizzou line, capable of playing four positions well but laminated in at right guard because of the quality around him. You've got Tim Barnes, and I defy you recall a single poor snap from 2008. You can't do it. (And you've got some good chemistry among Gregory and Barnes and their, uhh, shared 'wild' streak.) You've got Elvis Fisher, a freshman All-American last year and, barring injury or defection to the pros, a future four-year starter at what some people consider the most important position on the offensive line. You've got Dan Hoch, Gary Pinkel's most highly-touted OL recruit, good enough to become the first true freshman lineman to play for Pinkel at Mizzou. You've got Austin Wuebbels, a guy who overcame some discipline problems last spring to get his head together and break into the rotation, thrown into the fire against Texas and becoming better for it.
And potentially most impressively, you've got a pretty damn stout second-string, full of exciting young players like Jayson Palmgren (more highly-touted than Wuebbels and establishing himself as the go-to backup guard) and Daniel Jenkins (a good, young Texan whose brother just committed to Mizzou). And you've got another potential true freshman contributor in Jack Meiners, who is busy setting freshman strength records.
And the most exciting part: of the 12 guys listed above, eleven will return in 2010 (barring attrition, of course), and nine will return in 2011. Seriously, not only is this line potentially the best Gary Pinkel has had in Columbia, but it's also the youngest. Blaine Gabbert is going to be well-protected during his entire stay in Columbia.
But to the question at hand: where's the biggest concern? To begin to answer that question, let's look at the strengths of the lines of Mizzou's top opponents:
- Illinois: experience and athleticism across the line, though not a lot of proven playmakers
- Nevada: first-rate junior defensive ends
- Nebraska: big, athletic ends and a preseason All-American at DT
- Oklahoma State: big, experienced ends
- Texas: ridiculously athletic (if unproven and somewhat inexperienced) line
- Kansas: fundamentally sound and experienced across the line
So really, as far as there are trends, it's that they're facing experienced lines with pretty good ends. That suggests the most attention will be on the inexperienced members of the line (Wuebbels, Hoch, Fisher) and the tackles blocking the ends (Hoch, Fisher). Teams like Oklahoma State and Kansas were able to somewhat confuse the Mizzou line, and hopefully the younger guys getting a bit more experience will help with that, but there's your answer--Hoch and Fisher are the biggest question marks. Consider me optimistic nonetheless.
2. What happens if there's an injury? Meaning, how much should we believe the depth chart? If Hoch or Fisher gets hurt, does a backup fill in, or does Gregory move over? Are we working with a position-by-position two-deep, or with more of a hierarchy as I listed above? In Pinkel's tenure here, it seems that the main goal has been getting the best five linemen on the field more than two tackles, two guards, and a center. That said, I think it's probably smarter to look at things like the hierarchy above. I think Palmgren and Jenkins are the top backups, so any long-term injury will probably result in some shuffling to get them on the field. Then again, if this line is as deep as I've been leading you to believe, then maybe the hierarchy is less defined.
That said, either Dave Matter or Gabe Dearmond (can't remember which) quoted Pinkel saying that a true freshman (presumably Jack Meiners) might play this year, and if that's the case I'm almost thinking he's good enough to crack into the top eight or so on the list instead of simply the second string (that, or they're content with just getting him some garbage time action).
3. Seriously, how freaking good is this line going to be in 2010 and 2011?? I know, right?
2009 Mizzou Football Preview Series