You thought we forgot about this series? Nooooooooooo ... we were just waiting for the offensive guards piece to write itself. And you know what? It didn't. Which is ungrateful, if you ask me...
With four returning senior starters and experienced depth, the Missouri offensive line has minimal uncertainty heading into 2011. But the uncertainty that does exist comes on the interior. First, Missouri must replace a three-year starter at the center position. Mizzou has had a good-to-very-good center every year since 1995 (Rob Riti for four years, A.J. Ricker for four years, Adam Spieker for four years, and Tim Barnes for three), so we assume the position will never be a problem, but you never know for sure. Second, to the extent that Missouri had trouble on the offensive line last season, it came at the guard position.
2010 Offensive Line Penalties
Jayson Palmgren: 5 for 30
Austin Wuebbels: 3 for 25
Elvis Fisher: 2 for 20
Justin Britt: 2 for 15
Travis Ruth: 2 for 15
Missouri’s offensive line committed 14 penalties in 2010, and 12 of them were committed by offensive guards. The push the interior linemen got was, at times, strong (see: Oklahoma), but it was inconsistent, and Mizzou ended up generating a strong portion of their rushing yards to the outside. In all, the guards are solid but still have room for growth. Will the incumbent starters get pushed in 2011, or is most of the depth chart intrigue taking shape for 2012?
Austin Wuebbels (6’4, 300, Sr., Troy, IL)
2010: 13 starts
2009: 13 starts
Bill C.: I’ll say this much: in 2009, I noticed Austin Wuebbels quite a bit (and you really don’t want to notice individual linemen, as it typically means he messed up), and I almost never did in 2010. He cut down on his mistakes and matured in his second years as a starter. Wuebbels is the Mean Guy of the offensive line, unafraid of getting into a scrap. He is likely a solid incumbent at this point, and when we hint at competition, it is more in regard to the other returning starting guard.
Jayson Palmgren (6’2, 305, Sr., Kansas City, MO)
2010: 12 starts
Bill C.: Unfortunately for Jayson Palmgren, he was noticed (in the way I referenced above) a decent amount last year. He minimized his holding penalties after a dicey 2009, but if there was a linemen committing a false start, it was likely Palmgren. He was suspended for the Insight Bowl, and his replacements (mostly Justin Britt and Travis Ruth) performed at a level as high or higher. That might hint at an interesting competition this spring, though who takes place in the competition might depend on who wins the center job.
Justin Britt (6’6, 300, So., Lebanon, MO)
Bill C.: We love us some former wrestlers, and we’ve been enamored with Justin Britt from Day One. He found himself heavy in the line rotation as a redshirt freshman, and for the most part he acquitted himself well. Britt is a uniquely talented lineman, tall and athletic enough to play on the outside but strong and mean enough to play guard. He is also, apparently, a prime candidate to replace Tim Barnes at the center position. Few players are in position to have a more interesting spring than Britt -- he could end up a starting center, starting guard, or jack-of-all-trades backup.
Travis Ruth (6’3, 290, Jr., Jefferson City, MO)
2010: 1 start
Bill C.: Like Britt, Ruth has a lot riding on this spring. He too could end up a starter or backup, a center or guard. I feel bad for Ruth -- I’ve liked Britt enough for a while now that I almost assume Britt will overtake him for a starting position, but that might not be fair; among other things, he was given the start when Palmgren was suspended, not Britt. Plus, he is as strong as an ox. He and Jack Meiners will be the senior leaders of this line in 2012. He will likely be one of the top six linemen on the team whether he starts or not.
Anthony Gatti (6’6, 285, RSFr., St. Louis, MO)
Bill C.: Obviously it is hard to get a read on linemen as redshirt freshmen -- we’ve personally never seen these guys play, and the practice reports typically don’t get a read on how linemen are performing, other than in one-on-one drills. I can say this, however: Anthony Gatti is huge. I mean, gigantic. He seems a good inch or so taller than the other linemen around him (granted, I’ve never seen him standing next to Dan Hoch or Chris Freeman). He passes the eyeball test in every way imaginable, and when combined with the fact that he had a bit of a reputation as a mean blocker and a scrapper in high school … that’s enough to get me excited.
INCOMING: Brad McNulty (6’3, 310, Fr., Allen, TX, ***)
Bill C.: The wide body of the incoming recruiting class, McNulty was a pancake blocks specialist and three-year starter for a solid Allen High School program. Most of Mizzou’s offensive line signees over the years (Freeman aside) have been originally listed in the 6’4-6’6, 270-290 pound range (making it difficult to figure out if they project more as tackle or guard), but McNulty is an outlier. He appears to be an interior lineman all the way.
INCOMING: Connor McGovern (6’4, 275, Fr., Fargo, ND, ***)
Bill C.: My first reaction in finding out that Mizzou got a commitment from a North Dakota offensive lineman: he must have gotten too big for hockey and had to find another sport. Stereotypes! McGovern got an offer from the Tigers by being a summer camp wonder. He has plenty of family from Missouri, but playing in the opposite of a football hot bed meant he had to impress the coaching staff with his measurables … and he did.
2011 vs 2010
Compared to other units on the offense, the interior line has a bit of uncertainty … but not a ton. They still return two starting guards (and all primary backups). The battle for the starting center position will be, by default, one of the most interesting of the spring (there is only one other position on offense that doesn’t return its 2010 starter), and it will have ramifications for the guard position too. It appears that the Ruth-Britt winner will start at center, while the loser will split time with Jack Meiners as primary backup guard. Anthony Gatti is a wildcard, however. He is outstanding from a measurables perspective, and he could make things interesting with a solid spring.