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Roster Reset: Mizzou’s offensive line looking for internal improvement

Larry Borom is leaving for the NFL, but the Tigers return most of the unit that outperformed expectations in Eli Drinkwitz’s first season at Mizzou.

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NCAA Football: Georgia at Missouri Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s spring ball time!

Well, kind of.

Mizzou is scheduled to open up spring practice on February 28th. So, it’s close. Spring practice is slated to come to an end on March 26th. We’re still not sure when (if?) there will be a Black and Gold game this spring.

With spring practice only a few short weeks away, it’s time to take a look at who is back, who is leaving and who the Tigers have added since the end of the 2020 season.

We kicked things off with the quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers and tight ends. Let’s continue with a look at the offensive line.

Offensive Line Reset:

Returning:

  • Michael Maietti (Senior)
  • Case Cook (Junior)
  • Zeke Powell (Junior)
  • Hyrin White (Junior)
  • Xavier Delgado (Sophomore)
  • Javon Foster (Sophomore)
  • Bobby Lawrence (Sophomore)
  • Mike Ruth (Sophomore)
  • Luke Griffin (Freshman)
  • Drake Heismeyer (Freshman)
  • Mitchell Walters (Freshman)

Arriving:

Returning Player Analysis:

It was an interesting year for the Tigers’ offensive line. They weren’t a top-flight unit, but they exceeded any reasonable expectations. Larry Borom had a breakout season, and he used his platform year as a reason to leave a year early to enter the NFL Draft. The rest of the core contributors along the line last season are expected to return for 2021.

Mizzou finished 2020 as Pro Football Focus’ 30th ranked offensive line in the country, and the fourth best in the SEC. Michael Maietti was the unit’s best performer other than Borom. Getting him to return for his super senior season was another massive recruiting win for Drinkwitz.

What happens next to Maietti is up for discussion. Case Cook is back and should man the right guard position. Xavier Delgado and Luke Griffin saw plenty of playing time at left guard a year ago, and both will compete for the starting spot heading into 2021.

The biggest questions come at the tackle spots. Zeke Powell performed admirably last season, and should be considered the favorite to start there again in 2021. Javon Foster and Bobby Lawrence are worth keeping an eye on for right tackle and swing tackle spots. And don’t forget about Hyrin White. He was expected to start at right tackle, but missed the year with a shoulder injury.

Having returning players is helpful. Now it’s up to the coaching staff to make sure those returning players improve heading into their second season in this system.

New Arrival to Keep an Eye on:

E.J. Ndoma-Ogar is one worth keeping an eye on. He was a highly rated three star prospect coming out of the Dallas area in 2019. He’s a giant of a man at 6-foot-3 and more than 325 pounds.

Ndoma-Ogar should compete with Delgado and Griffin for playing time at left guard. Even if he falls short of winning playing time this season, he should be squarely in the mix heading into 2022.

The other new player added to the mix is Connor Tollison, a 3-star offensive tackle from Jackson High School. Tollison’s a talented player, but he’s likely at least a year away from contributing at the SEC level.

Position Battle to Watch:

Maietti and Cook are all but locked in at center and right guard. White should be the favorite to start at one tackle spot if he’s healthy. Powell, Foster and Lawrence should compete for playing time at the other tackle position across from White.

The biggest question along the offensive line is the same spot as a year ago: left guard. Delgado, Griffin and Ndoma-Ogar should compete for a starting spot, but don’t be surprised if that competition once again leaks into the regular seson.

Bottom Line:

If you want to look at this as a glass half full situation, the Tigers have plenty of starting options. Maietti and Cook provide the certainty with competition hopefully bringing out the best in the other three starting spots.

The glass half empty perspective would be the Tigers just had an up-and-down season along the offensive line and now their best player is headed to the NFL.

The truth will likely fall somewhere in the middle, of course. The offensive line probably won’t be a dominant unit, but it should be helped once again by the scheme. Drinkwitz’s offense gets the ball out of the quarterback’s hands quickly. That puts much less pressure on the offensive line to sustain blocks. One area they will need to improve next year is as a run blocking unit. The Tigers were in the top 20 in sack rate allowed, but among the bottom 30 in line yards blocked per carry, according to Football Outsiders.

Offensive line coach Marcus Johnson got the most out of his unit a year ago. He’s going to have to do more of the same for the Tigers to have success offensively in 2021.