It is no secret that the Missouri offensive line was incredibly disappointing in 2012. We'll find out soon enough about how much talent and injuries each played a role in that -- it's easy to blame it all on the latter, but until proven otherwise the former could still be a concern -- but in the meantime, it's predictably a major focus of practice reports. Here are some links.
It wasn’t a guarantee or even an implication that Missouri’s retooled offense will indeed produce the Southeastern Conference’s best rushing attack. But after a bleak inaugural season in the SEC — unofficially the worst in Mizzou history for knee ligaments belonging to offensive linemen — Britt’s confidence underscores the line’s renewed hope.
For starters, the Tigers’ starting five linemen stayed healthy through two preseason practices. That counts as progress.
"It’s the most cohesive line I’ve been around," said Britt, nine months removed from surgery for the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, an injury that sidelined him for Mizzou’s final three games. "It feels really good to be playing with the people you plan to play with."
That was rarely the case last year as the Tigers used five different offensive line combinations through the first seven games. Four of the season’s projected starters suffered knee injuries that cost them at least one start each.
Ideally, the Tigers will cycle as many as eight or nine linemen in and out of games to build experience and give rest. And plenty of battle tested backups return because so many bodies were needed in 2012. But the core group of five projected starters: Britt (left tackle), Max Copeland (left guard), Boehm (he has switched from left guard to center), Connor McGovern (he has switched from center to right guard) and Morse (right tackle) will be key.
"This group is going to be good," says Boehm, the only starter who started every game last year. "We all know each other, know each other's strengths and weaknesses. I'm excited to keep working with these guys, even with the No. 2's. Everybody is looking fresh. Everybody is looking good."
Interestingly, Copeland said the added weight doesn't show that the linemen learned they have to get bigger to compete in the SEC. Instead, he said it shows how motivated they were this offseason after the 5-7 season.
"Other guys would go out, and we would be in bed by 8:15 so we could get up at 6 and workout, on a Saturday," Copeland said.
It's hard to get a read on the difference in size in Missouri's linemen, as they're big dudes to begin with. I'll say that Gatti especially looks quite bigger than last year.
Henson said all of the freshman linemen in this year's class probably need a year of seasoning before they can play anyway: "They probably all need a year for strength and size. But that's what we've done most of the time here. Very rarely do we get an Evan Boehm who walks right in and can play. Who's physically there. It'd be nice to get some more of those guys."
And here's where we collectively remember that guys like Simon Goines (12-game starter for UCLA as a true freshman) and Germain Ifedi (second-stringer as a true freshman at Texas A&M) were both once committed to Mizzou and hang our heads.
And speaking of blockers...
"The SEC, they’re strong up front," Culkin said yesterday. "That’s why I knew I had to put on strength and size to help out, because I’m going to have to be attached" to the line "this year."
Actually, he’ll be lots of places in Henson’s offense. Through the first two days of camp, Culkin has been practicing as a slot and wing receiver and will eventually practice at fullback and possibly split wide. But the biggest change from last season’s scheme is having a tight end attached to the offensive line blocking on a regular basis.
Henson needs a versatile athlete who can block, catch and … block some more.
"I took that to heart. I tried to get my body right, get stronger, get bigger," said the Florida native.