Despite being beset with injuries in 2011, Missouri's offensive line still came together sufficiently to help the Tigers lead the conference in rushing. Now, three seniors from that group have departed.
ShowMeMizzou.com takes a look at what the offensive line may look like this spring, and heading into the 2012 season. I say 'may look like', because there are a number of variables in play, and the two-deep may look quite a bit different at the end of the spring than it does at the beginning.
Senior Travis Ruth was hurt almost all year, and he tried to play when he wasn't healthy enough to be effective. Ruth played his best in the Independence Bowl, after Coach Pinkel had said that Ruth was the healthiest that he had been all season. He should be good to go this spring, at either center or guard.
Junior Justin Britt stepped into the starting left tackle position on a moment's notice, late in fall camp after Elvis Fisher went down with a season-ending injury. Britt struggled against some of the better defensive ends, but steadily improved. He began the season on a bad wheel, after suffering a pretty serious ankle sprain late in camp.
Senior Jack Meiners saw a lot of action last year, including 6 starts at left guard, and he performed very well. Meiners will start at one of the guard spots for Missouri this year.
Fisher has been granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA, and he will play another year at Missouri. He's listed as the starting left tackle, but his back-up will probably see a lot of action with the first unit this spring, as the staff eases Fisher back into it.
Britt will move to right tackle, and he will likely play alongside of Meiners, who will likely move back to right guard.
Sophomore Mitch Morse saw limited action as a red-shirt freshman, and he will move up in the spring. He'll need to continue to get stronger, but he moves well, and he is a strong candidate to play at center or guard for the next three years. I think we'll see Morse and Ruth alternate at center and left guard this spring.
Red-shirt freshman Taylor Chappell is the likely back-up to Fisher at left tackle, and sophomore Chris Freeman will likely be playing right tackle on the second-team offense. This is Freeman's time to show. Freeman has made tremendous progress toward being ready to play, and when NFL scouts visit Missouri, Freeman is one of the guys in whom they express interest. The pros like his feet, and his athleticism, in addition to his size. But, the last time I saw him, the big man still had a ways to go. I'm very interested in seeing Big Chris in the spring. Will he continue to progress in his development, and at what rate? When will he be ready? He certainly has the size, but he needs to get stronger, and he needs to improve his quickness, flexibility, and stamina. He also needs to continue to improve his technique.
I was very impressed with Chappell during December. He will be a very good left tackle. He just needs to continue to get stronger. The question is how long will it take him to get strong enough? He has a chance to be very, very good.
One of those who we may see working with the second unit this spring is sophomore Anthony Gatti, who is recovering from injury, and is expected to return to the practice field following spring break. I'm looking forward to seeing Gatti on the field later this spring. I think he's a strong candidate to be in the rotation this year.
Red-shirt freshman Brad McNulty is another strong candidate to see the field in 2012. Like any of Missouri's young offensive linemen, McNulty needs to continue to get stronger, and he needs to continue to improve overall. But, he's about as ready as any of the red-shirt freshmen to play this year. I definitely see Chappell and McNulty as being in the mix this spring.
Junior-to-be Mark Hill has suffered yet another setback. He didn't dress for the Independence Bowl after he was discovered to have a blood clot in his upper torso. He's had surgery similar to Andrew Gachkar's from a few years ago. He'll miss spring football, and at this point, it's unknown when he'll return to the field.
Red-shirt freshman Connor McGovern is another projected second-teamer who is still recovering from injury. I've heard positive reports regarding McGovern. He's another one who has needed to get bigger and stronger.
There are three other players who will be competing for a spot on the two-deep this spring. Junior Max Copeland is a walk-on who has everything you'd want except the requisite size. He's a dynamo, but I'm not sure that he can get big enough, and strong enough.
This spring will be an important time for sophomore Nick Demien. He's big enough. And this spring, there's a spot on the two-deep to be had.
Red-shirt freshman Mike Boddie is another candidate to challenge for a spot on the two-deep this spring.
By the time that Gatti and McGovern get back onto the field, hopefully before the end of the spring, the other players will have had time to show what they can do, which in combination with having everyone on the field, will go a long way toward helping to sort things out along Missouri's offensive line.