COLUMBIA — With an uneven 2012 season firmly in his rear-view mirror, Missouri senior Justin Britt finds himself looking forward these days.
By TEREZ A. PAYLOR
The Kansas City Star
It’s not that Britt, who is listed at 6 feet 6 and 315 pounds, has forgotten about the assortment of injuries he experienced during his somewhat uncomfortable adjustment to right tackle last season. Though he is trying, he has not.
The thing is, he just can’t help but be excited about the chance he has this fall to re-establish himself at left tackle, arguably the line’s most important position.
“I’ve played it since my sophomore year in high school,” said Britt, whose 22 career starts are the most of any returning lineman. “I feel comfortable out there. At left guard, I’d feel the same. Right tackle didn’t suit me well. But it’s alright.”
Britt proved to be a capable blindside protector as a sophomore in 2011, when he filled in for injured three-year starter Elvis Fisher and made 13 starts. But when Fisher returned for his sixth season in 2012, Britt was forced to shift to right tackle, a transition offensive line coach Bruce Walker says is harder than it looks.
“It’s easy to transition from guard to tackle on the same side because you’re in the same stance,” Walker said. “When you’re on the other side of the line, you’re in a different stance.”
Which means Britt essentially had to do everything in reverse. At a position where repetition is essential, the comfort level just wasn’t there, particularly after he suffered a Jones Fracture to his left foot that kept him from practicing for almost 2 1/2 weeks last preseason.
Britt recovered in time to start the first nine games of the season, even making three starts at left tackle in place of an injured Fisher. However, his season came to a close when he tore the ACL in his right knee against Florida in early November. He rehabbed the injury throughout the winter and spring, when he said the knee was “about 80 percent to 90 percent” healed.
When asked Wednesday if he now feels as good as he did during the 2011 season, when he weighed a relatively trim 290 pounds, he happily said he feels pretty close.
“Yeah, I could say I feel 100 percent,” Britt said. “Back then I had fresh knees, and I did not weigh 310. But right now, I feel pretty dang good.”
More good news for Missouri fans: With the season only three weeks away, offensive coordinator Josh Henson says he’s starting to see flashes of the old Britt in practice.
“I think the biggest thing with Justin is the confidence is back,” Henson said. “I’m seeing him get better at little things everyday, so I think movement-wise, he’s back. But like I told Justin, the goal is not to be the same guy you were before you got hurt, the goal is to be a better player than you were before you got hurt.”
To do that, Henson said Britt must make sure his technique matches his impressive physical gifts, which include ideal size and solid athleticism for a big man.
“He’s a talented guy, a guy that’s so athletic, he’s been able to get away with some things, technique-wise at time that weren’t quite what you would say were ideal,” Henson said. “If he can combine that technique with that athleticism, he’s got a chance to be a dominant player for us.”