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Will Mizzou’s offensive line take a step forward in 2023?

The offensive line struggled through most of 2022. Can they improve enough to compete in 2023?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 25 Arkansas at Missouri Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

As the 2023 season approaches, we’re asking our football staff to answer a series of questions facing the Mizzou Tigers. Read along to get their takes on who should start, who will shine and who will leave their mark on the season.

It’s the SEC. Everything starts in the trenches.

We’re well aware of this at Mizzou. The two most successful seasons in our program’s history, one in the Big 12, the other in the SEC? Both anchored by beefy bois up front. The worst years in program history? Swiss cheese.

Mizzou’s offense struggled mightily in 2022, and the uneven play of the offensive line was a key factor. Eli Drinkwitz responded by going out and grabbing some impact transfers and re-recruiting star tackle Javon Foster for one more season. So in light of the variety of faces in the position group...

The offensive line struggled in 2022 and enters the preseason with plenty of spots up for grabs. Will Mizzou’s offensive line take a step forward in 2023??

Parker Gillam, Beat Writer: The easy answer here is that it will be difficult for a unit that returns experience and added new pieces to take a step back. However, there are no guarantees in the trenches of the SEC, and it will still be a tall order for this group to consistently win against the fronts it will face.

The good news is that everybody and their mother knows that this offensive line is a major key to how the Tigers will fare in ‘23, especially the members of the OL. The return of Javon Foster was perhaps the biggest win of the offseason for Mizzou, as he provides not only a proven presence on the field, but he is an experienced leader for the unit that has seen everything in the SEC. He’s determined to fix the issues of season’s past, and he has a running mate who can help him do that.

Despite Foster’s abilities, many believe that Armand Membou may be the most talented player in the O-line room. The Lee’s Summit (KC) product started in the final five games of the season for the Tigers and will be shifting from right tackle to left guard this time around. Everything is pointing to Membou being a future NFL prospect, and after a full offseason of work in the starting rotation, he should only get better in ‘23.

Foster and Membou will serve as the pillars of the offensive line, but they need others to step up alongside them. Xavier Delgado is another experienced returner but has room to improve, while transfers Marcellus Johnson (Eastern Michigan) and Cam’Ron Johnson (Houston) will compete for starting roles. Marcellus figures to slide into the right tackle spot while Cam’Ron will compete with Connor Tollison and Bence Polgar for the starting nod at center and could slide to either guard spot. It remains to be seen if former Oklahoma transfer EJ Ndoma-Ogar can live up to his high school billing, and there is little depth behind the previously mentioned players.

So, yes, this unit will be improved in nearly every facet in 2023. The question will be if it is enough of a jump to take the Missouri offense to the next level, or if we continue to see Brady Cook running for his life and Cody Schrader being hit behind the line of scrimmage on a consistent basis. And, while I hate to be too negative, a key injury to this group could prove to be dire with the lack of depth.

Aaron Dryden, Football Writer: Last year was pretty bad and I don’t think it can be as bad as it was last season, so sure, I do expect a step forward. How big is that step, though?

Bringing back Javon Foster was a big move, but there are still some variables to the equation. Xavier Delgado brings a career 28 starts in his Mizzou career. However, they have been extremely uneven. The Tigers bring in multiple talented transfers like Cam’Ron Johnson and Marcellus Johnson but they’re going to be adjusting and transitioning to the SEC. Armand Membou returns after an encouraging freshman year. There are a lot of pieces to play with; it’s just a matter of putting them together.

If Missouri wants a real tangible improvement, finding a center is probably the biggest task for them during camp. Whether that is an internal improvement from Connor Tollison or an external add like Cam’Ron Johnson, that spot has to improve. If they can fix this group, I really think the benefits will be seen at other positions as well. The poor play of the offensive line really hurt Brady Cook and the ball carriers, and for as much criticism as Drinkwitz has received about his play calling, it almost didn’t matter because they couldn’t get anything blocked up front.

Sammy Stava, Staff Writer: I think we will see an improved offensive line for Mizzou this season — because it can’t get much worse than last year’s performance. How big of a step forward will this unit take, though? Who knows.

There is potential with this offensive line with the return of Javon Foster and the transfer portal additions of Cam’Ron Johnson and Marcellus Johnson, plus OL coach Brandon Jones leading the way. So, there’s some talented pieces at this position but the depth is the biggest question mark.

While I believe there will be an improvement along the offensive line position, I just don’t see enough there that this unit could become one of the “strengths” of this team to be a legitimate factor in the SEC.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 22 Vanderbilt at Missouri

Jaden Lewis, Beat Writer: Will the line take a step forward from last season? It should, but we will find out how much during the season.

Left tackle Javon Foster is the real deal; his return was key for this unit. Cam’Ron Johnson, one of the best linemen in the AAC last year, is a nice addition whether he plays at center or guard while Marcellus Johnson brings plenty of experience but will have to bring his A-game in the Southeastern Conference.

What will make this unit less concerning is if the returnees can take a step forward. Meaning, will guys such as Connor Tollison and Xavier Delgado take a leap as well as Armand Membou, who started in five games as a true freshman?

This question is one of the most important ones this team will have to answer if the Tigers want to be competitive in the SEC East this year. You can have all the explosive offensive firepower you want, but if you can’t protect the quarterback and open up running lanes in the trenches no offense will be successful.

Quentin Corpuel, Staff Writer:

Having a sturdy offensive line is one of the greatest pleasures in football. With a poor unit, offenses have to work around it; with a strong unit, offenses can build around it. From a fan’s perspective, it’s also calming not having to worry about your team’s QB getting smashed if they don’t get rid of the ball in half a second.

Mizzou did not have that last season in large part due to horrendous injury luck. I find it hard to believe that with a healthier group comparatively to last season...

*aggressively knocks on wood*

That the offensive line will take a step back in 2023. The question becomes how much of a step forward the unit can take because it’ll be vital in determining the offense’s success. Javon Foster should continue to anchor the unit, and Armand Membou has gotten rave reviews from players and coaches throughout fall camp. I’m interested to see how the two Johnson transfers stack up against tougher competition, and all signs from the past couple of weeks point to both of them being immediate difference-makers. There’s been a recent track record of offensive linemen succeeding after making the jump from a mid-major conference to a major one. The hope will be for the Johnsons to do the same.