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Rock M Roundtable: Can the offensive line rebound after a tough year?

Mizzou’s line is heavy on youth, but not proven depth. Will they do enough to set the pace for Drink’s offense?

NCAA Football: SE Missouri State at Missouri Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

We’re officially within a month of game day, folks, and tomorrow we’ll be three weeks out. At this point, there doesn’t seem to be anything stopping the truncated 2020 season from taking place apart from a worst-case scenario COVID-wise.

So while we twiddle our thumbs and wait for September 26, we’re continuing our ongoing position preview Q&As. We’ve tackled the question of who the starting QB will be, and last week our staff pondered the depth of the wide receiving corps. This week, the Rock M writers are tackling the offensive line, a position group vital to the health of any program, especially in the SEC. With so much youth in the coffers, should we expect major improvements from last year?

While Mizzou’s OL depth is young (as we’ll discuss below), there’s also a lot of experience with five of the linemen have at least four years of experience. Can the vets help stabilize a line that struggled to protect Kelly Bryant last year?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: AUG 30 UMass at Rutgers Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Kortay Vincent, Football Beat Writer: Experience is a valuable commodity, and you can’t teach it. With such a young group overall, having an experienced starting five will be integral for this line to bounce back after a lackluster 2019. It also will allow the young guys to get some valuable mentorship that will hopefully carry into 2021. As for improvement from last year, I don’t think that it’s a high bar, so I think we will see an improved level of production across the O-Line.

Aaron Dryden, Staff Football Writer: I hope so. I think the main difference between this year and last year is that the QBs who they’re protecting aren’t really scramblers like Kelly Bryant was. It’s hard to protect a scrambler as it is, but with the lack of a vertical passing game, they just got too predictable at times, and for that, the offensive line struggled.

I think having guys with legitimate college football snaps under their belt is gonna be super important in an already weird season, but especially with an all-SEC slate that’s going to have its fair share of heavy hitters.

Sammy Stava, Staff Writer: With the way the offensive line struggled last season, I’d expect them to have a chip on their shoulders going into this season. Fortunately, this offensive line position does still have a lot of experience, and that can pay dividends. Drinkwitz landed Rutgers grad transfer Michael Maietti, and we can see him having an immediate impact for this season. All in all, I think the offensive line is in for an improvement this season and we’ll see the upperclassmen help in a big way.

As listed on its website, 14 of the 19 offensive lineman on Mizzou’s roster are either freshmen or sophomores, so the line will be young whichever way you slice it. Should we expect some struggles on the line as these young players get their sea legs?

Troy v Missouri Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Kortay Vincent: Struggles are inevitable when you have guys that haven’t experienced real SEC game speed before. I mean, we are going to be asking these guys to block Alabama Week One, and we’re lying to ourselves if we think the line will meet the challenge perfectly. The good news is a young core with experienced veterans is usually the best plan for building for the future. This year’s struggles might be the next 2-3 years’ strengths.

Aaron Dryden: I think potentially we could see struggles. I would expect for the older guys like Mike Maietti, Hyrin White, Case Cook, and Larry Borom to get the first crack at starting. That leaves potentially a tackle spot open, and if someone goes down to injury, or possibly even an opt out... it could get a little thin.

On the flip side, they have some guys who may be sophomores (Ruth, Lawrence, Delgado), but have been on campus for multiple years at this point. You may see some struggles, but ideally those young guys aren’t on the field.

Sammy Stava: Yeah, I think we’ll see some struggles from this young core. Especially in this strange season because the freshmen missed a year of spring football and haven’t gotten the practice reps they have really needed. As for the sophomores, they have to get acclimated to a new coaching staff with the transition from Brad Davis to Marcus Johnson. There’s a lot of moving pieces that can lead to this offensive line core struggling early, which will put even more pressure on the upperclassmen.

Sticking with the theme of youth, Drinkwitz went heavy on lineman recruits in his first class. Do you foresee any of them making an early impact?

Mizzou Football

Kortay Vincent: I think there will be plenty of opportunities to step up for the young guys, however, which young guy that will be is still wide open in my eyes. I think those that differentiate themselves first will be the guy who’s most versatile and shows a willingness to play any position. Drink has emphasized this during fall camp and has spoken of versatility across all positions — offensive line specifically. I think this will be even more important with the unpredictability of COVID leading to lots of chances for the young guys to step up.

Aaron Dryden: I actually like the idea of building your first class through the trenches. Specifically in such a physical conference like the SEC. You aren’t going anywhere in this conference if you can’t get some competent size along your lines.

I don’t really think that any will necessarily make an impact, but if I had to put my money on one player, it’d probably be Mitchell Walters out of Mehlville. I think if there’s a tackle spot open for competition, he’d have an outside chance to compete. He’s a big kid (6’8, 275), who plays nasty, with long arms and moves his feet well. He has a chance to crack the two-deep if he can keep his pad level lower, and make some technical improvements.

Sammy Stava: After losing Yasir Durant, Tre’Vour Wallace-Simms, and Trystan Colon-Castillo, the offensive line became a big need for Drinkwitz in his first recruiting class. He was able to keep Drake Heismeyer and Mitchell Walters (both St. Louis area commits) and he was also able to recruit Dylan Spencer over Tennessee and Mississippi State. Those three have the potential to be some solid offensive linemen contributors in the future. If I had to pick, I would say that Heismeyer would be the most likely to have make an early impact this season as a true freshman.