On Monday’s preview of the offensive tackles, I went over the flaws of the 2019 offensive line. No need to rehash it here; it was bad.
The interior line offers a bit more intrigue than the tackles do, however. That’s certainly the case with Rutgers transfer Michael Maietti, who’s on pace to take the starting center spot. But with Case Cook earning team captain honors from his teammates and probably being the best lineman of the 2019 group, the interior linemen have a little more star power than they usually do.
As a reminder, I’m grouping these guys based off of my analysis, not Coach Drinkwitz’s. I’ll probably be wrong on where guys wind up playing, but this exercise is less about being right and more about taking stock of what the Tigers have.
The Scarlet Knight
Michael Maietti - Redshirt Senior - 36 games played, 33 starts (Rutgers)
New offensive line coach Marcus Johnson inherited a mess with a lot of unproven backups, so he went out and got himself a guaranteed Day One starter at center. A 2-star product out of New Jersey’s Don Bosco Prep, Maietti started all but three games at Rutgers, making him the most experienced Missouri lineman in 2020. Now, whatever you think the current status of Rutgers football is over the past four years is probably poor - and that’s totally fair - but assuming that Maietti is an inferior product because of where he played is nonsense. Pro Football Focus rated him the 77th-best returning lineman for the 2020 season (before conference shrinkage) AND the highest-graded pass-blocker in the B1G (if he had stayed there, anyway). He’s good at what he does, but most importantly, fills an immediate need along the Tiger line.
Case Cook - Redshirt Junior - 20 games played, 10 starts
First, let’s look at Case’s evolution:
I really don't think we've fully appreciated just how magnificent Case Cook has become in his time at Mizzou pic.twitter.com/ERSd55NMQe— Nate Edwards (@NateGEdwards) August 17, 2020
Nothing will ever top “Mad” Max Copeland’s exquisite “Viking Chic” flowing mane, but this? This comes very close.
Dominating mullet aside, Cook was recently voted a team captain by his peers and was a versatile piece that tried to dam up all the leaky issues of 2019’s offensive line. And aside from Eric Beisel, the vast majority of guys elected captain are starters at their respective positions. So I feel pretty safe in assuming he’ll be the starter at one of the guard spots. He has the second most game experience behind Larry Borom, and had a tremendous bounce-back year after a rough start in 2018. I’m going to go ahead and talk myself into good feelings with Maietti and Cook starting in the interior.
The Untested Youths
Xavier Delgado - Redshirt Sophomore - 13 games played, 0 starts
Thalen Robinson - Sophomore - 6 games played, 0 starts
Jack Buford - Redshirt Freshman - 0 games played, 0 starts
Luke Griffin - Redshirt Freshman - 0 games played, 0 starts
Drake Heismeyer - Freshman
Mitchell Walters - Freshman
Dylan Spencer - Freshman
And this is the rest of them. Robinson saw some time at center, but at 6’7” and a whopping 350 pounds (heaviest on the team!), he can easily bounce outside to tackle. Delgado has the most experience of this group with 13 games of experience to his name, but most of it earned last year as guard. Buford and Griffin bulked up on the bench last year, so any experience they get this year will be their first. Heismeyer was the first freshman lineman to earn his number, but he and Walters and Spencer should not be counted on to contribute, COVID emergency aside. Someone will have to step up in this group, otherwise it could be another long season of musical chairs as Drink and Johnson try to find the right combo to work. Hearing that the defense is getting almost six sacks a day isn’t a great testament to the effectiveness of the o-line so far, but there’s still a month (!) to figure out who the best five are going to be.
What would dumb Nate do?
Left to right, start Cook, Maietti, and Delgado, have Robinson be primary backup for center and tackle, rotate in Buford, Griffin, and Heismeyer while Walters and Spencer bulk up.
What’s actually going to happen?
They find a competent starting five of White, Cook, Maietti, Delgado, and Borom. Open competition is good and could lead to a revelation but its hard to see - especially since we can’t see practice - any of the youngsters pushing for major playing time this year.