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2015 Missouri recruiting recap: Offensive tackle will be a spring battle to watch

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In an effort to both build depth and 2015 and avoid a drop-off in experience in 2016, Missouri signed two junior college offensive linemen in the class of 2015.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Every school misses on recruits, and every school suffers decommitments. But if too many of those happen within a single unit, that can end up having lingering effects.

Missouri's two-deep has had every opportunity to grow tenuous in recent years. In 2012, Missouri suffered a decommitment from Germain Ifedi (who has gone on to star at Texas A&M) and missed out on Simon Goines (an eventual UCLA starter) after once being considered the leader. Combine that with two in-state misses in 2014 -- four-star CBC tackle Brian Wallace ended up at Arkansas, while Hazelwood Central tackle Roderick Johnson signed with Florida State; both played as true freshmen -- and you've got four guys who would have played a role in 2014 and 2015.

But potential gaps aren't actual gaps; after the lineman apocalypse that was 2012, Missouri fielded one of the best lines in the country in 2013, and while an abysmal performance by the line helped to seal Mizzou's fate in an upset loss to Indiana in 2014, the Tigers still went 12-2 and won the SEC East, and the line improved quite a bit over the second half of the year.

There is a new issue on the horizon, however: Missouri returns five players with starting experience in 2015, but all five are seniors. There will be a junior (Jordan Williams) and three sophomores (Clay Rhodes, Nate Crawford, Alec Abeln) in the mix this fall, along with up to five redshirt freshmen, but the level of experience could drop off dramatically in 2016. To both continue building for the future and address the quickly approaching experience problem, Mizzou signed two freshmen and two JUCO transfers on the offensive line in this class. Whether JUCOs Malik Cuellar and Tyler Howell are able to immediately secure starting jobs or not, they will assure Mizzou of a couple of more experienced hands in 2016.

Malik Cuellar
MUTIGERS.COM: Mizzou Announces 2015 Signing Class

Big, strong offensive lineman that is athletically gifted with a great blend of speed as he blocks exceptionally well at all levels … Has a great football IQ … 2014 All-Conference honoree at City College of San Francisco … Rated as the No. 13 offensive tackle coming out of junior college by ESPN … Rated as one of the top 100 prospects coming out of junior college by Rivals, one of 18 offensive linemen to make it on the prestigious list … Led City College of San Francisco to a 2014 Conference Championship … Helped the Rams to an 11-2 record while averaging 420.5 total yards of offense while averaging 40.6 points per game.

Tanner Owen
Post-Dispatch: A look back at Mizzou's signing day haul

Henson tried to resist comparing Owen to Mizzou’s last unheralded offensive lineman from a smaller Missouri town. But he couldn’t help himself.

"He’s got tremendous potential," he said. "It’s probably unfair to compare a young guy to a Justin Britt, but he’s that style of athlete. Where he ends up at his career will be determined over the next few years, but he’s got that kind of frame, that kind of style of athlete."

Tyler Howell
The Trib (Behind the Stripes): MISSOURI SIGNEE: OL Tyler Howell

Where Does He Fit?: Just look at the size of him. Howell would be about the Tigers’ biggest lineman since 6-8, 335-pound Chris Freeman. Howell was an NJCAA first-team All-American this past season and has three years to play two, so he could possibly redshirt if need be. That’s not really what Missouri wants from he and fellow JUCO tackle Malik Cuellar, though. The Tigers want those two to challenge for a spot right away with the likes of Taylor Chappell, Clay Rhodes, Nate Crawford, Mike Fairchild, Paul Adams, Sam Bailey et al. Howell’s gigantic frame offers basically limitless possibilities. The key will be whether he shows he can be nimble enough to handle those SEC edge rushers.

A.J. Harris
The Trib (Behind the Stripes): MISSOURI SIGNEE: OL A.J. Harris

In An Analyst’s Words: "Harris is very strong and often overpowering at the point of attack. He is able to just toss defenders and open up running lanes. He has good feet, good open field running ability and is quick out of his stance, which translates well to an eventual possible move to center in the future. He takes good angles to get in position to have down field blocks. Keeps his head on a swivel to find contact around the pile and finishes with aggression." -- Scout.com.

Quick: who starts at tackle for Mizzou in 2015? (The candidates, I guess: Cuellar, Howell, Connor McGovern, Taylor Chappell, Clay Rhodes, Nate Crawford, Mike Fairchild, Jordan Williams, Sam Bailey, Paul Adams.)

The Beef: Wow is that a lot of options for two spots. I think Cuellar and Howell have the best shot of being new and having a crack at the spots. Otherwise, I think the coaches probably go with as much experience as they can here. I think you perhaps see McNulty and McGovern heading outside with Hall coming in at RG. Rhodes is my next candidate to maybe keep McGovern inside on the right, or perhaps pushed inside on the left if McNulty goes outside on the left. With the number of running weapons and the lack of experienced WR options, the OL is going to be very important and experience may win the day over potential.

AlaTiger: In my view, McGovern is a much better guard than tackle. He’s an absolute mauler inside. So, I’d really like to see him stay there. Hopefully, someone is good enough to make it so. I haven’t been overwhelmingly impressed with the existing crew, so I’ll go out on a limb with Cuellar and Howell.

Fullback U.: Malik Cuellar gets an early head start on his position of choice which I'm guessing means LT. I think Taylor Chappell inherits the RT position right now but could be overtaken by Tyler Howell by the fall. This is one of those situations like with quarterbacks where I think if the younger guy becomes the starter we're in good shape.

Bill C.: I do like McGovern quite a bit more at guard than tackle, so hopefully either Crawford or Rhodes (or, a redshirt freshmen, or hey, all of the above!) takes a decent step forward in their respective third years in the program. If Crawford or Rhodes has a lovely spring, and either Cuellar is able to find his footing in spring or Howell just dominates in fall camp, I think we'll all feel pretty good about the line as a whole. Evan Boehm is a rock at center, and between McGovern, Brad McNulty, and Mitch Hall, Mizzou should be able to put two strong, experienced guards on the field. But if McGovern does have to move back outside, that both tamps his upside down a bit and forces both McNulty and Hall to come up big.

So yeah, we'll all be paying pretty close attention to the tackles this spring.

Considering there are five senior linemen this year, do you think either Cuellar or Howell redshirts to spread out the experience a bit?

The Beef: I think it is very possible one of them does. Cuellar still has his RS season, but has been on campus already, giving him the leg up on Howell. I am assuming that Howell is in the same boat from a 3 in 2 status, but I do think the depth of youth behind does perhaps afford you some luxury in RS’ing one of these guys to break it up. But hey…if those two come in and are the best RT and LT we have, they are obviously going to play.

AlaTiger: No. Even if they don’t both start, I have a hard time seeing them not make second string. Otherwise, why bring them in?

Fullback U.: I do not think so, they each still have another year after 2015 and I don't think Mizzou brought these guys in to hang out. At worst I think they become part of a rotation if someone else like Clay Rhodes demonstrates he's capable of contributing.

Bill C.: Redshirting JUCO linemen isn't unheard of, and if one doesn't win a starting job (and is indistinguishable from another player on the second string), sitting him wouldn't be the worst thing in the world to do. But obviously we hope that both guys are good enough to see the field and give Mizzou impressive 2015 depth.

BillSelfsToupee: I'm really just flat excited about the OL this team has stockpiled. After the injury disaster we went through 2 years ago, its nice to see a talented and deep group of linemen that can play in the SEC.