Consistency has become the rallying cry for Missouri’s offensive line this spring.
According to the Tigers’ returning starters up front, a lack of it last season contributed to uneven performances for the team’s offense overall and for quarterback Maty Mauk specifically.
“There were definitely games when we either did not protect Maty enough or we couldn’t run the ball,” senior right guard Connor McGovern said. “We need to, every game, get more and more yards, and keep Maty clean.”
Whether it was penalties or protection breakdowns, Missouri knows there are myriad areas for improvement as it enters the first spring under offensive-line coach A.J. Ricker.
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The depth chart is sure to change before the Sept. 5 season opener against Southeast Missouri State at Memorial Stadium, but the Tigers’ line is senior-heavy entering the spring, with Taylor Chappell penciled at left tackle and Mitch L. Hall, Evan Boehm and Connor McGovern slated to start on the interior.
Senior left guard Brad McNulty isn’t listed on the depth chart, as he’s sidelined after labrum surgery. Sophomore Clay Rhodes is currently listed as the starting right tackle.
“It helps to have guys with experience, there’s no doubt,” Ricker said. “You’d rather have that than anything else. But like I told the guys, we’ve got to play better. There’s guys that were starters on paper, but we’ve got to be more consistent. … All jobs are open. They know it, but that’s what you want. I think we have more competition in this spring with guys really close.”
Two years ago, Missouri boasted one of the nation’s best rushing attacks, but there was a steep drop last season. The pass protection also struggled at times.
“We like to be a run team, and we’ve got the backs to be a run team, but we’re athletic enough and strong enough to be good pass protectors,” McGovern said. “That should definitely be an area that we make strides in is keeping Maty clean.”
McGovern said it was critical, especially early in games, for Missouri’s offensive line to protect Mauk.
“If he gets hit once early, it’s his nature as a quarterback to try to get out of there,” McGovern said. “We need to try to make sure he keeps that trust in us. That’s our job, and it’s nothing against him. He’s out there trying to make plays and score us touchdowns.
“We’ve got to keep him clean. … Games when we kept him clean, he stayed in there and made those plays he can make as a pocket passer. … You can just see it in film. If we keep him clean from the start of the game, he trusts us more, and it makes for better cohesion. But it’s not just us five having cohesion. It’s the whole offense, all 11 of us.”
Missouri sophomore wide receiver Nate Brown will be sidelined until after spring break, which is March 23-27, by a sprained left medial collateral ligament. He was one of three players added to the Tigers’ injury report Thursday ahead of the second spring practice.
Junior tight end Sean Culkin has a grade-one separation of the acromioclavicular joint in his right shoulder. He might be able to return next week.
Finally, sophomore nose guard A.J. Logan sat out practice because of a strained arch in his left foot, but he is listed as day-to-day.
Junior cornerback John Gibson missed his second straight practice for personal reasons, while junior running back Morgan Steward (hip surgery) and redshirt freshman safety Tavon Ross (torn ACL) have been ruled out for the spring. Ross is slated for surgery next Thursday.
Senior safety Cortland Browning also remains sidelined by a Lisfranc injury in his right foot, and senior left guard Brad McNulty is still rehabbing after labrum surgery.