Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen is by no means known for its catfish, but don’t tell that to the Missouri offensive linemen — especially sophomore right tackle Paul Adams.
“I just really like their catfish for some reason,” Adams said. “Me, Evan Boehm and Connor (McGovern) would go (there) after wins last year, so we’d order that, and it was really good.”
Boehm and McGovern now play in the NFL, but a new group of Missouri Tigers pays a visit to the restaurant off of Interstate 70 each week — one that includes sophomore quarterback Drew Lock. And after Saturday night’s 61-21 win over Eastern Michigan, their first Cheddar’s meal of the season, Lock picked up the tab, which, yes, did include catfish thanks to Adams’ recommendation.
“The price wasn’t in the thousands. It was still in the hundreds. We’ll just put it that way,” Lock said. “They ran the tab up a little bit, but it was worth it to me.”
The reason? Through two games, Missouri’s first-string offensive line has allowed just one sack on 87 dropbacks and according to College Football Focus, neither Adams nor junior left tackle Tyler Howell have allowed a quarterback pressure.
For a position group that was highly scrutinized last year — they gave up 23 sacks in Lock’s eight starts — and one that’s now led by three sophomores and two juniors, Lock has had substantial time to throw the football.
So far, coach Barry Odom has been impressed.
“I just think, collectively and working together, those guys have embraced the opportunity to be a tough group, to protect their quarterback, to try to establish a physicalness at the line of scrimmage,” Odom said. “It’s fun watching them work together.”
Offensive line coach Glen Elarbee said he’d be reminisced not to mention Lock’s progressions in that “working together” conversation, and referenced progressions in Lock’s reads and his quicker release. For Elarbee’s linemen, though, it’s more than Lock’s heightened football ability, but his work to connect off of the field.
Over the summer, junior right guard Alec Abeln and Lock would play golf and occasionally, Adams would watch. Those rounds, weekly trips to Cheddar’s and even Monday night film sessions at Abeln’s house have assisted the in the group’s bond with their quarterback.
“We just have more time with him,” Adams said. “We really tried our best to add as much chemistry as possible with him. Whether that’s just hanging out on a Wednesday night or going and watching film at Alec Abeln’s on a Monday night, whatever it takes to become an entire unit.”
At this point, this is a bond so tight that when Adams turned and saw his quarterback on the ground in the season’s first sack against West Virginia, it touched him inside.
“That one sack we were all kind of mad about, because we didn’t want that to happen,” Adams said. “You hate seeing your QB laying down and I look down and see his right shoe right next to me. It’s one of those things you take to heart.”
It’s not just Lock, though, that’s seen the development, but also junior running back Ish Witter.
Against West Virginia, Missouri ran for 180 yards and against Eastern Michigan, the Tigers ran for 170, numbers that would’ve ranked third and fourth in terms of run production in 2015.
On Saturday, Witter ran for 61 yards Saturday, the third-most of his career, and attributed much of it to the blocking up front.
“Our offensive line, they’re getting better and better each snap. … From spring all the way through camp, they got better and, like I said, they get better every day,” Witter said. “They’ve been showing a lot and are stepping up and playing the role they need to play.”
Heading into their Southeastern Conference opener on Saturday and against a Georgia defensive line Elarbee termed “a physical bunch,” Missouri has their work cut out for them.
But if the production continues and another meal at Cheddar’s is indeed earned, Lock will be more than happy to buy Adams more catfish.
Alec Lewis: @alec_lewis