Welcome back to another season of Missouri football at Rock M Nation. Like every season, we’ll be running down the list of position groups, previewing each one with members of our football coverage team. You can find links to all pieces in the series here.
Mizzou has long had a reputation as D-Line Zou, but the O-Line has been the team’s real anchor over the past four years. What do you see in Mizzou’s linemen (and coaching) that make them so successful?
Brandon Kiley, Lead Football Writer: Mizzou has quietly seen four offensive linemen get selected in the NFL Draft over the last five years (Evan Boehm, Connor McGovern, Mitch Morse and Justin Britt). But that doesn’t begin to tell the story of how successful Missouri’s offensive line scouting and development has been over the last five-plus years.
Let’s travel back to 2013. Missouri is coming off a season from hell in its first year in the SEC. The offensive line crumbled due to injury. The quarterback couldn’t stay healthy. The defense just couldn’t put the pieces together. The team, at times, looked completely overmatched.
For as much as we talk about the skill players and the defensive line being the things that turned the team around in 2013, it was really the offensive line. Britt, McGovern, Boehm, Max Copeland and Morse were unbelievable that season.
It was not a coincidence that Missouri’s best team in the last decade had four future NFL players along the offensive line.
The current offensive line has some of the same potential. Yasir Durant, Trystan Colon-Castillo and Tre’Vour Wallace-Simms are all future NFL players. If those three are able to gel with whomever comes out as the starter at left guard and right tackle, this offensive line has the potential to be special once again.
As for what Missouri has done to maintain such a successful offensive line, it’s twofold. First of all, they’ve done a good job of keeping some of the best in-state linemen to stay home. I’m thinking specifically of Boehm, Colon-Castillo and Wallace-Simms. They were no-brainer recruits who each projected to become the types of players they ultimately became at Missouri. The more impressive development, though, belongs to guys like Britt, McGovern, Morse and Durant.
Britt and McGovern were no-name recruits who became legitimate NFL players based on their work ethic and the way they were able to develop within the strength & conditioning program. Missouri did a tremendous job under Gary Pinkel of taking athletes and turning them into quality linemen. That took time, but it was ultimately a successful plan.
We’ve seen a shift in philosophy under Odom. Eight linemen have committed to Missouri over the last two years. Seven of them weighed at least 300 pounds at the time of their commitment. Those aren’t athletes who need time to grow. Those are linemen ready to come in and contribute.
We’ve seen both philosophies work. And it’s credit to Pinkel, Odom and their respective staffs that they’ve been as successful as they have at identifying and developing talent along the offensive line over the last decade-plus.
Tim Bussen, Staff Football Analyst: First, Odom has been running bigger and bigger offensive linemen out there — bigger every year it seems. These are linemen in the SEC mold who have been able to move even stout defensive fronts off the line of scrimmage. Second, I think Brad Davis is a simply a good coach. I pay special attention to passing downs where the line is often challenged by exotic schemes. With few exceptions, Davis’ units have been machine-like when picking up blitzes and passing off stunts.
Ryan Herrera, Football Beat Writer: I think one of the main reasons is obvious — Barry Odom has had some real big boys playing for him in the trenches. Guys like Kevin Pendleton and Paul Adams have come and gone, but Missouri still trots out an offensive line that features possible NFL prospects Yasir Durant, Trystan Colon-Castillo and Tre’Vour Wallace-Simms. These guys have had the size, strength and ability to give Drew Lock (and now Kelly Bryant) the protection needed, which has made the Tigers’ offense so successful over the last few years. The offensive line is the x-factor that separates the good offenses from the bad ones, and Odom’s group has proven to be a solid component of Missouri’s offensive machine.
And then there’s O-line coach Brad Davis. Bringing him in has been one of the biggest additions to Odom’s staff. Under former offensive coordinator Josh Heupel, plays unfolded quickly because of the up-tempo offense the Tigers ran. This caused the linemen to worry less on mechanics as they were focused on just making sure they blocked their guys for the couple seconds they needed to. When I talked to some of the linemen during last year’s fall camp, I remember them raving about Davis’ approach to the mechanics of blocking. Adams, in particular, was vocal about Davis’ preaching of the little things that are necessary for a successful blocking scheme. Davis seems to be bringing out the best of the players on the offensive line, and I think this current group can be just as good if not better than the lines from the last few years.
We don’t often think of linemen as, “stars,” but the Tigers have a few that might qualify. Who are the leaders of this year’s front line, and what makes them special?
Brandon Kiley: I mentioned Tre’Vour Wallace-Simms, Trystan Colon-Castillo and Yasir Durant. Those are the stars of the group.
Wallace-Simms is the headliner, in my opinion. He was Missouri’s only player to make first team All-SEC a year ago. Mel Kiper Jr. recently had him rated as the fourth best senior guard in the country. And it’s all deserved. Going into the final week of the season last year, he had allowed just one hit on the QB, no sacks and committed zero penalties (per Pro Football Focus).
But Wallace-Simms isn’t alone. Colon-Castillo is one of the best centers in the country. His ability to get to the second level is as good as it gets. His athleticism allows for Missouri to get him out in space in front of the weapons we’re all looking forward to watch.
And I haven’t even mentioned Durant yet, who has the potential to be a truly special left tackle. Cole Cubelic of SEC Network recently ranked Durant as one of his five best offensive tackles in the SEC. He allowed a pressure on just 1.8% of his snaps a year ago, the best rate in the conference.
The offensive line is absolutely stacked with talent. It’s going to pave the way for one of the best rushing attacks in the country. Get to know these three names in particular. You’ll hear them on Sundays soon.
Tim Bussen: Davis is lucky because the incumbents among the starters— Yasir Durant, Trystan Colon-Castillo, and Tre’Vour Wallace-Simms, from left to right—are the best O Linemen from last year’s group. Durant and Wallace-Simms are versatile— equally effective as both road graders and pass protectors. The latter of the two, renowned mainly for his run blocking, graded out with the highest protection rating of SEC linemen last year. Castillo is what you want in a center: a technician. I loved seeing him in space when he pulled out in front of sweeps.
I’m also excited about Larry Borom, a geological feature of a man at 6-6, 340, who should take over at left guard. There’s no telling what the big man can do when he gets his paws on a linebacker.
Ryan Herrera: The stars of this year’s edition of the offensive line are players I’ve already mentioned: Yasir Durant, Trystan Colon-Castillo and Tre’Vour Wallace-Simms. They were already the top three linemen Missouri had last season, and the trio has All-SEC potential. Wallace-Simms already has hardware of his own, being voted to the All-SEC first-team last season by the AP after not allowing a sack or committing a penalty in over 1,000 snaps. Durant has been mentioned among the top offensive tackles in the SEC, and he posted the best rate in the conference by allowing pressure on just 1.8% of the snaps he played in 2018. And then there’s Colon-Castillo, who, as one of the top centers in the country, is the perfect guy to anchor the middle of the line.
Having consistent performers on the offensive line is a necessity, and the Tigers will have that with this trio of big bodies.
More important than anything at this position is depth — who’s stepping up when bodies grow thin? Which non-starters do you see stepping up this season?
Brandon Kiley: The Tigers have really developed some solid depth along the offensive line over the last few years with guys like Durant, Larry Borom, Jonah Dubinski and Hyrin White serving as primary backups. Durant, Borom and White are now expected to start, and most of the backups are relative unknowns.
Case Cook will likely be the first player off the bench. A former four-star recruit out of Georgia, Cook can play anywhere along the interior. He’s a player the team has been really high on since the time he walked on campus. It’s only a matter of time before he becomes a key contributor.
Depth is something that develops over time. Most of the current backups simply haven’t had that time yet. The battle worth watching in fall camp is at swing tackle. Right now the top contenders for the job are Javon Foster and Bobby Lawrence, both of whom are redshirt freshmen. May the best man win.
Tim Bussen: This is a huge question mark. Jonah Dubinski departs, taking with him most of the experience among the backups. Case Cook played last year, but his introduction to SEC football was shaky. If there are any injuries, we can only hope that a host of redshirt freshmen and perhaps JUCO transfer Angel Matute, are physically and mentally ready. There is no evidence to suggest that they will or will not be. That said, if he gets in there, I’ll be watching Bobby Lawrence, if for no other reason than his impressive stature at 6-8, 300.
Ryan Herrera: While the starters are pretty much set, it’s the backups that bring a few question marks. Jonah Dubinski medically retired prior to fall camp, and he would have been the most experienced of the backups. Case Cook will probably be one of the first guys off the bench to spell the starters for a few plays, but he doesn’t have the experience that a guy like Dubinski did. Bobby Lawrence and Javon Foster will probably be in the mix for playing time, but besides them, Missouri just has to hope its young players are ready to step up if the time comes.
But then again, there was a time when this year’s projected starters served backup roles before breaking out. So, here’s to hoping the next bunch of breakout stars are among the Tigers’ current backups.