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Recruiting Reset: Valen Erickson is Eli Drinkwitz’s latest piece in his offensive line puzzle

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Missouri has needed to upgrade the offensive line for years. Drinkwitz is attacking the position with numbers.

Eli Drinkwitz is in attack mode. No, I’m not taking about on the field, I’m referencing his current plan to upgrade the offensive line. The offensive line is tough to overhaul. It takes a strong plan for acquisitions - both via transfer and high school recruiting - and development.

The plan is starting to come into form.

Drinkwitz didn’t waste much time adding impact players along the offensive line. It started with Rutgers graduate transfer Michael Maietti, who has since become a stalwart for the unit. Then, Drinkwitz added JUCO transfer Zeke Powell who filled in at left tackle last year due to injuries across the line. He continued with the reinforcements by adding former Oklahoma offensive guard EJ Ndoma-Ogar via the transfer portal during the 2020 season.

Transfers aren’t enough, though. It’s also about the long-term plan. That’s where the high school recruiting comes into play. The team is very high on freshman Connor Tollison (Jackson, MO). He was a huge get for Drink’s staff, and he counts as another recruiting victory over the likes of Alabama and Oklahoma.

Tollison might be one piece, but the next two years are critical for Drinkwitz’s overhaul of the offensive line and he’s off to a heck of a start. The Tigers currently have four offensive linemen committed for the 2022 class, including two players from in-state and another two with significant ties to the state of Nebraska.

Deshaun Woods, an Omaha native, is the top-rated player in the state of Nebraska. He chose the Tigers over the Huskers in early July. The latest addition to the offensive line is former Nebraska commit Valen Erickson. The Chicago native is a 3-star tackle with reported offers from Illinois, Nebraska, Purdue and Tennessee.

Erickson very well might be the final offensive lineman Drinkwitz takes in the 2022 class, in part because the team hopes to add plenty of talent to that unit in 2023. Missouri, Illinois and Kansas are loaded with talent including 4-star tackle Miles McVay and 4-star Paris Patterson at East St. Louis, 4-star offensive tackle Cayden Green at Lee’s Summit North and 4-star offensive tackle Logan Reichert at Raytown. Landing two of those four would be a success. Anything more than that would be the kind of thing that could take Missouri’s offense to the next level.

Having a quality offensive line is a necessity to compete in the SEC. The Tigers have added a good amount of talent over the last 20+ months since Drinkwitz took over as the head coach with Erickson being the latest addition to the group.

Let’s take a deeper look at what Erickson brings to the unit, when we could see him on the field and what his addition means in the big picture.

Where he fits: Erickson is the first player in Missouri’s 2022 class that really does feel like he’ll stick at tackle. Woods can play all five positions, but it seems like the staff views him as a center. Armand Membou will likely play guard at the next level and Tristan Wilson has versatility to play inside or out.

The thing that stands out about Erickson on film is, frankly, the same thing that’s stood out about other recent additions: He’s an absolute ass-kicker in the run game. Drinkwitz seems to have a type along the offensive line. He’s looking for maulers who taken no prisoners. Erickson is a more-than-capable pass blocker, but he thrives in pulling situations. He dominates in double-team situations and can’t wait to get to the second level to pummel an unsuspecting linebacker.

When he’ll play: That ability to stay outside is significant for Erickson’s chances to see the field early. Missouri’s current tackle situation for 2022 includes Javon Foster (SR), Connor Wood (SR), Mitchell Walters (SO) and Bobby Lawrence (SR). That’s a lot of potential departures. It’s incredibly rare for true freshman offensive linemen to see the field, and I wouldn’t expect Erickson to break that mold. But he should have every opportunity to battle for a starting position by his second or third year on campus.

What it all means: My co-host on the Before the Box Score podcast, Nate Edwards, mentioned last week Missouri’s offensive line is wide, but not particularly deep. The implication is, sure, the Tigers had a lot of quantity on the offensive line battling for starting nods, but the quality of those players was up for debate. I think that’s a fair critique. That should be changing over the next two to three years. Drinkwitz has added quite a bit of talent to the offensive line room over the last two years, and the next calendar year should add even more.