Has Missouri done enough to improve its offensive line? It’s a question we’re likely to spend the next six months discussing without any definitive answers.
Missouri spent the past couple offseasons seemingly turning over every rock to find talent along the defensive line. The offensive line, though? There have been some additions, but the improvement is expected to come from within.
Marcellus Johnson is the lone transfer addition the Tigers made along the offensive line this offseason. He and Armand Membou are expected to compete for the two spots on the right side of the offensive line. Membou spent most of last season as the sixth offensive lineman, but he did get some extended time in the last four games of the season as the Tigers’ starting right tackle.
Membou and Johnson will likely be joined by three starters from a year ago with Connor Tollison (center), Xavier Delgado (left guard) and Javon Foster (left tackle).
Is that good enough? It remains to be seen, of course. But it’s reasonable to have questions.
Drinkwitz: "The offensive line has to set the tone of our program. ... That's the challenge for these guys."— Calum McAndrew (@C_McAndrew95) February 27, 2023
It’s cliché to suggest football games are won and lost in the trenches, but it’s also true. The Tigers’ best teams in the SEC have succeeded in large part due to their ability to dominate along the offensive and defensive line. Heck, look at the Tigers’ defensive turnaround a year ago. What changed? It’s pretty simple, really. The defensive line finally had the talent necessary to hold up against SEC opponents.
I don’t know if the same is true of this offensive line. I like the addition of Johnson. I thought Mizzou made a mistake by not giving Membou more opportunities a yer ago (and it sounds like Drinkwitz agrees Membou should have had a more permanent role), and I think he’ll run with his opportunity. But the left guard and center positions are serious concerns for the Tigers.
Drinkwitz says one of his regrets from last season is not playing Armand Membou sooner at tackle— Matt Stahl (@mattstahl97) February 27, 2023
Only 76 centers played at least 500 snaps for their respective FBS teams last season, according to Pro Football Focus. Tollison was ranked 74th out of those 76 FBS centers for his pass blocking, and he was tied for the worst run blocking grade by PFF.
What's Mizzou do at center? Drinkwitz says it's a competition between Polgar, Tollison, Heismeyer— Dave Matter (@Dave_Matter) February 27, 2023
The story is not all that dissimilar at left guard where Xavier Delgado was graded by Pro Football Focus as the 100th “best” run blocker and the 108th “best” pass blocker out of the 129 offensive guards to play at least 750 snaps last season.
In other words, center and left guard were both problem areas for Missouri last season, and there hasn’t been much of anything done to improve those areas. Maybe EJ Ndoma-Ogar can compete with Delgado at left guard after Ndoma-Ogar returns from injury. Maybe Bence Polgar overtakes Tollison as the starting center. Both are possible. But are they enough of an upgrade to meaningfully change the trajectory of the offensive line?
The Tigers had a chance to overhaul the offensive line this season the way they did with the defensive line a year ago. They opted against doing so. Eli Drinkwitz is instead making a bet on the internal options taking a step forward. I don’t think the Tigers are holding pocket aces.
At this point, I might settle for a pair of sevens.