The Missouri Tigers will need to develop some new chemistry on offense in 2014, as they’ll be faced with replacing eight of their eleven starters from 2013. There shouldn’t be too many issues on the offensive line, however, as they’ll return three full-time starters plus another player who saw significant action last year. Left tackle Mitch Morse, center Evan Boehm, and right tackle Connor McGovern are back after being part of a solid group in 2013, while Anthony Gatti, who started two games last season, will get the nod at left guard. Mitch L. Hall (one of two Tiger offensive linemen named Mitch Hall) is expected to start at right guard.
The Tigers’ biggest challenge will be replacing left tackle Justin Britt, who was selected in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the Seattle Seahawks. Morse, a 6-foot-6, 305-pounder, will make his second position change in as many years, attempting to shift from right to left tackle after moving outside from center prior to last season. In recent years, the Tigers have attempted to put their five most talented linemen on the field, regardless of their natural position. Much like programs such as Texas A&M have done in recent years, the Morse move is another example of that principle, putting the most experienced lineman on the team at the most important position on the line. Offensive line coach Bruce Walker has avoided moving linemen from side-to-side at times, but the fact that Britt was able to make the transition from the right to the left side should ease any potential discomfort the Tigers may have about moving Morse.
Gatti, a 6-foot-6, 315-pound mauler, will look to make the most of his redshirt senior season after transitioning to guard during 2013. Formerly a highly-regarded tackle prospect, Gatti suffered through two ACL injuries and had trouble making his way up the depth chart. But after an injury to starting left guard Max Copeland last year, Gatti got his chance and was inserted into the starting lineup against Indiana and Arkansas State. He made the most of the opportunity, especially as a run blocker, and was looking to steal the spot from a healthy Copeland before a turf toe injury halted Gatti’s progress. If he can stay healthy this year, Gatti could be a big presence on the Tigers’ line, especially with the increased emphasis on the running game.
Center Evan Boehm, a 6-foot-3, 315-pounder, will head into his third year as a starter on Missouri’s line. Boehm, who was ESPN’s number two ranked guard in the country coming out of high school and one of the few true freshmen ever to play on the line for Gary Pinkel, will look to build off two years of very strong performances and further establish himself as a center who will soon be playing on Sundays for years to come.
Hall will enter the season as the biggest unknown on Mizzou’s line. The 6-foot-5, 320-pounder transferred from Ole Miss in 2012, where he played with his brother Matt, who is now a member of the Minnesota Vikings. After sitting out a year, Hall saw some spot duty as a backup in 2013 and was part of the field goal/extra point team, but he’s now the only member of the Tigers’ line without any starting experience. His size would lead one to believe that he’ll be a nice physical presence on the interior, but we won’t really know for sure until we see him in action as a starter.
McGovern, a redshirt junior, will kick out to right tackle after starting at right guard last season. At 6-foot-4, he’s not as tall as most of the tackles that Mizzou has used recently. That may not be a huge factor, however, if the Tigers shift to more of an upfield run blocking based approach, as opposed to the spread offense of recent years which has required tackles to consistently kickslide back and keep defensive linemen extended until the quarterback gets a throw off. McGovern did a fine job as a first-year starter, and he’ll be expected to continue improving in 2014.
The players listed as second-stringers at the end of spring practice were redshirt freshman left tackle Clay Rhodes, redshirt sophomore left guard Jordan Williams, redshirt junior center Brad McNulty, senior right guard Stephen Carberry, and redshirt junior right tackle Taylor Chappell. Among those three, Williams, McNulty, and Chappell seem to be the best bets to fight for playing time. McNulty started five games in 2012 and could figure in as a role player at center or guard. Williams is an intriguing prospect who served as the backup left tackle in 2013, but will shift back inside to his natural position of guard in 2014, a better fit for his 6-foot-3, 295-pound frame. The 6-foot-5, 300-pound Chappell has been discussed as a potential starting tackle for several years now, and he’ll look for the chance to finally break through during his fourth season in the program. Other notables from the spring depth chart include redshirt freshman center Alec Abeln and Mike Fairchild, a member of the 2014 recruiting class who graduated early from high school and practiced with the Tigers during the spring.
Other members of this year’s recruiting class who will arrive for the spring semester include Paul Adams, Sam Bailey, Andy Bauer, and Kevin Pendleton. Bauer, the prize of the recruiting class who was ranked the top recruit in Missouri by Rivals and ESPN and was named an Under Armour All-American, seems to have the best upside of the group, but it’s unlikely that he’ll play in 2014 as he continues to fill out and rehabilitate from an ACL injury that sidelined him as a high school senior.