Heading into the 2010 season, here were the top ten teams according to returning career starts on the offensive line: 1) Georgia, 2) Florida State, 3) Minnesota, 4) Auburn, 5) Colorado, 6) Boston College, 7) Wisconsin, 8) South Florida, 9) Ohio State, 10) UCLA. Seven of these ten made a bowl game, and three in particular (Florida State, Auburn, Wisconsin) exceeded expectations to varying levels of significance.
Why do we bring this up? Because Missouri will return 105 career starts and almost certainly end up on the above list for 2011. Career starts are obviously not the most perfect stat in the world -- if you’re a terrible starter on a terrible line, you get more credit than a great backup on a great line; but if you return of starts from a good line … that’s typically a good thing, is it not?
In 2011, Missouri will have one of the most experienced, most proven offensive lines in the conference. They will indeed have to replace a starter, which differentiates them from the running back, receiver and tight end positions, but as we said about those positions too … whoever wins the quarterback position will be aided significantly by the experienced compiled in this unit.
NOTE: Because of the general lengthiness an offensive line summary, we are breaking this up into posts on the exterior (i.e. tackles) and interior (i.e. guards and centers) line. Gary Pinkel and staff make frequent mention of the fact that quality matters over a given position, so the backups listed in each of these posts are categorized very generally. Any of them could end up at tackle, guard or center.
Dan Hoch (6’7, 315, Sr., Harlan, IA)
2010: 13 starts
2009: 13 starts
Bill C.: When Nebraska imploded and Bill Callahan was fired in 2007, what was becoming a Big Red Monster of a recruiting class fell apart in impressive fashion. We all know how much Mizzou benefited from this -- their five-star starter at quarterback the last two seasons had been committed to Nebraska for two seasons before hitching along with Mizzou instead -- but now that Blaine Gabbert is gone, the impact still remains in the form of their two- (and soon to be three-) year starter at right tackle, Dan Hoch.
Offensive linemen are often characterized as the smartest (if also the craziest) guys on the offensive side of the ball. Hoch lives up to the stereotype. He is not amazingly athletic, but his combination of strength and brains makes him a significant force on the right side, and it will give him a decent shot at a pro career.
RPT: Let’s face it: Evaluating the play of an offensive lineman is one of the most difficult assignments for any amateur observer. But let me ask you this: When was the last time you watched a game and thought, "Man, Dan Hoch got abused there." Like Bill insinuated, there have been linemen to pass through Gary Pinkel’s program that are stronger and more athletic, but Hoch’s biggest strength seems to be his ability to adapt to how defenses choose to attack him. In pass protection, defenses should theoretically always be a step ahead by virtue of being able to change the attack. Hoch’s mental game largely neutralizes that advantage.
Elvis Fisher (6’5, 295, Sr., St. Petersburg, FL)
2010: 13 starts
2009: 13 starts
2008: 14 starts
Bill C.: Whether you believe the "Left tackle is the most important spot on the line because it protects the quarterback’s blind side" truism or not, you have to admit … there are less appealing thoughts in the world than a four-year starter at left tackle making life easy for a first-year starting quarterback. Hoch’s meaner, more athletic counterpart has protected both Chase Daniel and Blaine Gabbert, and he will have the honors of doing the same for a third quarterback in 2011.
RPT: Missouri’s offensive line is built on athleticism more than any other skill, and Fisher is the prototype for that philosophy. The nimbleness of his feet has been evident in more situations than just his role as the battering ram in the "Jumbo" formation. Mizzou has somewhat gotten away from the "Playaction Jet Sweep with the playside guard and tackle pulling to move the pocket" that was basically the default playcall in the Daniel era. Fisher is built for that playcall. He's quick across the line of scrimmage when he is needed to pull, but he has still acquitted himself extremely well when needed to hold his own on the edge.
Jack Meiners (6’6, 305, Jr., St. Louis, MO)
Bill C.: In the absence of better measures, we make a ton out of career starts when it comes to the offensive line. The perception of the 2011 Missouri offensive line will be aided by this … the 2012 line, on the other hand, will get crushed because of the same thing. Barring injury or unexpected defection, Missouri will lose four line starters after the 2011 season, but thanks to players like Big Jack Meiners, the drop-off might (MIGHT) not be as significant as we may now fear. Meiners became just the second lineman (after Hoch) to play for Gary Pinkel at Mizzou without first redshirting, and he has proven himself strong (very strong), smart, and perhaps most importantly, versatile. He will likely head into the 2012 season with little to no career starts, but he will also have made a hefty contribution at both guard and tackle, and he will slide into the 2012 starting lineup wherever the need is strongest.
RPT: I think it may be a testament to the rest of the offensive line that Meiners’ playing time in 2010 was as limited as it was. Meiners just absolutely looks the part of a Big 12 offensive lineman both in stature and in play. And, as Bill mentioned, his versatility is a huge asset for an offensive line that will find positions for its top linemen.
Bill C.: It pays to go first when writing the Walkthrough, doesn't it...
Mark Hill (6’6, 280, So., Branson, MO)
Bill C.: A year ago in the 2010 Missouri Football Preview, we talked of Mark Hill as an athletic, growing lineman held back to date by injury. He was a wildcard because of a solid spring, but he was still a bit of an unknown quantity. Then he went out and missed the 2010 season due to a knee injury. It seems just about every offensive lineman suffers a knee injury at one point or another, so the long-term impact is unlikely to be significant, but it was a missed opportunity for Hill. With a highly-regarded group of freshman linemen getting important development time while he was on the sideline, he might struggle to fend them off on the depth chart. As much as any other lineman, Hill needs a really nice Spring.
RPT: He really needs a nice Spring. Opportunities in 2011 will probably be extremely limited for Hill and his counterparts in his region of the depth chart, but now is the time to start making a case for 2012.
Mitch Morse (6’6, 285, RSFr., Austin, TX)
Bill C.: A high school quarterback and receiver (and not a very good one) who encountered a ridiculous growth spurt and became an athletic, high-upside offensive lineman, Morse tempted the coaching staff quite a bit, nearly missing a redshirt. He was somewhat unknown when he committed to Missouri, but he is perhaps the most likely of the redshirt freshmen to see early playing time, depending on what he does to impress the coaches in March and April.
RPT: Take what I said about Fisher and apply it with a few grains of salt to Morse.
Nick Demien (6’6, 295, RSFr., Wentzville, MO)
Bill C.: Another versatile player with the perceived quickness to play outside and strength to play inside, Demien did not wow the Mizzou coaching staff in August as much as some of us perhaps thought (it never seemed like he had much of a chance to avoid a redshirt), but as we said last summer, the staff fell in love with this guy a long time ago, and he was the most highly-touted player in the 2010 recruiting class for a reason.
RPT: When he was recruited, I began to wonder how I would be able to differentiate Demien’s career path with that of Jack Meiners’. Apparently the coaching staff had no such problems. That said, a redshirt certainly is not as damning an indictment as it may seem following the freshman campaigns of Hoch and Meiners. Gary Pinkel and his coaching staff seemed to feel almost preternaturally comfortable with its eight-man rotation a year ago. A one-year learning curve behind that group may not have been such a bad thing for Demien.
Chris Freeman (6’8, 325, RSFr., Trotwood, OH)
Bill C.: Before the Tony Mitchell soap opera and the second Sheldon Richardson saga, there was Chris Freeman, the monstrous, exciting recruit who failed to get immediately cleared by the NCAA but, almost a year later, ended up on campus. Freeman spent the fall of 2010 getting in shape and getting back into the swing of football after a year off, but thanks to his sheer mass and athleticism (he was a strong basketball player in high school, which is a terrifying thought) he remains a really intriguing option for the Tigers in coming seasons.
RPT: That’s a big dude.
Bill C.: They don't call him the best color man in the business for nothing, folks.
INCOMING: Taylor Chappell (6’6, 270, Fr., Canadian, TX, ***)
Bill C.: A small-school Texas stud, Chappell was close to receiving four stars from Rivals, settling instead for the highest three-star designation. Thanks to his relationship with Mizzou assistant Josh Henson, he chose the Tigers over offers from UCLA, Arizona, Texas Tech, Kansas and others. A spread offense veteran, he is long and lean enough to assume that his future is at tackle. Despite limited scholarships, Mizzou put a heavy emphasis on offensive linemen in the 2011 recruiting class, and Chappell was one of the first students to receive an offer.
INCOMING: Michael Boddie (6’6, 270, Fr., Gilmer, TX, ***)
Bill C.: Going back to the Sean Weatherspoon days, it seems an annual rite of passage for Mizzou to steal a relatively unknown player from the Houston commit list; this year, that player is Michael Boddie. Boddie committed to Houston last March, but after visiting Columbia in October and hearing rave reviews from former Gilmer teammates Tristen Holt and Braylon Webb, he made the switch. He comes from a very successful high school program, he’s enrolled and will take part in spring practice, and … well, anytime we can compare a recruit to Sean Weatherspoon, it makes us happy, no?