There’s only 55 days left until the Missouri Tigers kick off their 2016 season against West Virginia, so today we honor number 55 for the Tigers, offensive lineman Nate Crawford.
The Missouri Tigers will open the 2016 season without at least four of their five regular starters from last season, as those players have exhausted their eligibility and moved on from the program. They’ll hope that the last remaining member of that group, Nate Crawford, is able to take the field and be a leader among a group that will be quite inexperienced otherwise.
Crawford, a 6-foot-5, 300-pound redshirt junior from Pensacola, Florida, was widely regarded as the Tigers’ most consistent lineman in 2015. He began the season playing at right tackle, but moved inside to guard as the season went on and eventually became an imposing force at that position. Unfortunately, Crawford’s status for 2016 is now in doubt.
Crawford missed most of spring practice with a lower-back injury, and that led him to have surgery on the troublesome back for the second time in 10 months.
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It’s not guaranteed that he’ll be back for the start of fall camp, and if that ends up being the case, someone among JUCO transfer Kyle Mitchell, walk-on Samson Bailey, or redshirt freshman AJ Harris will have to step up and replace him in the starting lineup. That would leave Alec Abeln, who started three games in 2015, as the Tigers’ most experienced lineman and the only one to have started a game at the Division I level, so needless to say, it’s very important that Crawford recovers properly and returns to the lineup.
Assuming that he can recover his old form–which is never really a safe assumption when a lineman deals with a serious back injury–Crawford can be a dynamic force for the Tigers up front. His powerful combination of athleticism and strength should allow him to effectively compete with SEC defensive linemen on a week-to-week basis.