It’s fall camp time! As your Missouri football Tigers begin their fall practices to get ready for the season, Rock M Nation will begin going through each position to take stock of the depth and project the position for the season.
It’s time to break down the position group that needs the most improvement from last year to this year: the offensive line.
The Offensive Tackles
We know for sure Javon Foster will be a starting tackle and it looks like he’ll definitely be the left tackle, just as he has been the past three years. Eastern Michigan transfer Marcellus Johnson has been a starting left tackle in the MAC for four years and 31 games but looks to be the starting right tackle. JUCO Ma’Kyi Lee seems to have the inside track as Foster’s backup while St. Rita product Valen Erickson projects to be the backup on the right side. Freshmen Logan Reichert and Brandon Solis will most likely be a solid third in depth at their respective tackle spots.
The Interior Offensive Linemen
Tons of options, yet not a lot of clarity on who will be the starters. Xavier Delgado has been a stalwart at left guard the past four years but is being pushed by Armand Membou and Tristan Wilson. Cam’Ron Johnson transferred in from Houston to be the starting center despite never starting at center in college; Connor Tollison, Bence Polgar, and Drake Heismeyer are still on the roster but the likelihood of any of them starting is unclear. EJ Ndoma-Ogar has been an intriguing prospect at a guard spot (when healthy) while Mitchell Walters and, yes, Armand Membou (again) have experience and could also slot in.
There probably isn’t a position on Missouri’s roster primed to take a greater step forward in 2023 than the offensive line.
Some of that is due to new additions. A lot of it is because the group is trying to improve from what is a much lower baseline than other positions.
The Tigers finished this past season ranked 44th in both Pro Football Focus’ pass blocking and run blocking grades among 64 Power Five teams. The advanced numbers were a bit worse. They finished 113rd among 131 FBS teams in power success rate (percentage of runs on third or fourth down, two yards or less to go, that achieved a first down or touchdown) and 70th in sack rate (Unadjusted sack rate for all non-garbage time pass attempts), according to Football Outsiders.
So, yeah, lots of room for growth. That’s one way to frame it.
Much of that improvement along the offensive line is tied to the two transfers the Tigers added to the mix in the form of former Houston guard Cam’Ron Johnson and Eastern Michigan offensive tackle Marcellus Johnson. Sophomore Armand Membou is also expected to take on a more significant role in 2023 after playing in a (very) limited capacity as a true freshman.
This isn’t a situation in which Missouri added quantity over quality. Marcellus Johnson was graded by Pro Football Focus as one of the top offensive tackles in his conference last season. He arrives at Missouri with some high quality tape and more than 2,000 snaps to his name. Cam’Ron Johnson allowed just one sack in 556 pass-blocking snaps last season, according to Pro Football Focus.
Those are some big-time additions for a unit that desperately needed some new starting options.
The expectation at this point is that Javon Foster will man his usual starting position at left tackle with Marcellus Johnson flanking him at right tackle. Membou is expected to start at one guard position with Xavier Delgado and Cam’Ron Johnson battling for playing time on the other side. Connor Tollison has reportedly made significant strides throughout the offseason, and the expectation is he’ll enter week one as the starting center.
I’ll be honest, that last bit took me by surprise.
Tollison was ranked 74th among the 76 FBS centers last season that took at least 500 snaps for their respective FBS teams last season, according to Pro Football Focus. He was tied for PFF’s worst run blocking grade among that same group. His starting position either signifies real growth by a young player who was forced into action earlier than anticipated, or it signifies that Missouri failed to add significant competition at center this past offseason. It’s hard to say at the moment which is more likely.
Here’s to hoping it’s the former.
Regardless of where things stand at the center position, this unit looks to be improved at three of the five starting spots. That’s about as much as you could ask for from one offseason of personnel changes. New personnel, a new positional coach and a new offensive coordinator add a whole lot of anticipation for a position group that could take a significant stride forward in 2023.