After so much hand-wringing during 2016 spring practice about the state of Missouri’s offensive line, the unit performed admirably last fall.
Tackles Tyler Howell and Paul Adams were excellent pass blockers on the edge and left guard Kevin Pendleton put together a fine season.
The Tigers dealt with some injuries at the other interior spots, but there was enough depth and talent to mix and match up front for a record-setting offense.
For the first time in program history, Mizzou topped 500 yards of total offense per game, finishing 13th in the country with 500.5 yards — just behind national champion Clemson and just ahead of explosive offenses such as Oklahoma State, Oregon, Washington State and Southern California.
Of course, reinforcements are needed and teams always strive to get better in the trenches.
Second-year coach Barry Odom aimed to do just that with a five-man offensive-line class, which includes several players who could push to make the two-deep depth chart before the 2017 season-opener against Missouri State.
One of those new recruits, Ben Davis High tackle prospect Pompey Coleman from Indianapolis, got a jump start by enrolling early and participating in spring practice.
Coleman (6-5, 270) broke both bones in his lower left leg, the tibia and fibula, on Aug. 26 during the Giants’ second game of his senior season, but he expects to be fully healthy when his first training camp with the Tigers rolls around in three months.
“Right now, I’d say I’m probably at about 90 percent,” Coleman said. “There’s some progress to be made, but I can play on it, so that’s good.”
Coleman worked as the second-string right tackle behind Adams for much of spring practice, absorbing Mizzou’s blocking schemes and learning to trust his injured leg again.
“I feel like I’m picking things up really quickly here,” Coleman said. “It’s just sometimes my leg hampers me every now and then, but I’ve just got to learn to play through it and I’ll be straight.”
Ben Davis used quick and strong designations for its offensive line, so Coleman has played both left and right tackle, depending on the alignment.
He enjoyed being able to focus solely on the right side since arriving in Columbia for the spring semester.
“When I was able to just focus on one position this spring, it actually helped out a lot,” Coleman said. “I’m still working at trying to get my speed back and being to push off of it confidently. That’s about it, and once I get that, I’ll be all right.”
OFFENSIVE LINE (16)
Project depth (string): (1) LT Tyler Howell, senior; LG Kevin Pendleton, junior; C Jonah Dubinski, sophomore; RG Adam Ploudre, senior; RT Paul Adams, junior; (2) LT Yasir Durant, sophomore; LG A.J. Harris, sophomore; C Sam Bailey, junior; RG Tre’Vour Simms, sophomore; RT Pompey Coleman, freshman; (3) T Kyle Mitchell, junior; C Alec Abeln, senior; G Trystan Castillo, redshirt freshman.
Potential impact additions: T Hyrin White, freshman; C Case Cook, freshman; G Larry Borom, freshman.
Analysis: Missouri was very fortunate from an injury standpoint up front last season, and Glen Elarbee proved his coaching chops with the job he did transforming the team’s biggest question mark during the spring into arguably its biggest asset by season’s end.
Scoff if you must, but the Tigers allowed a record-low 36 tackles for loss last season — seven fewer than second-place Eastern Michigan and 20 fewer than the nearest Power Five teams, California and Mississippi. Mizzou also allowed the fewest sacks in the SEC (14), which is a credit to quarterback Drew Lock as well.
Howell and Adams were solid, if not spectacular, especially in pass protection. Pendleton also played superbly aside from a few games with false-start troubles. Ploudre and Dubinski were revelations, while Bailey and Abeln also saw plenty of action and return quality experience to MU’s depth.
Unlike last season, the competition is going to be fierce with the addition of Durant and Coleman among a talented five-player offensive-line class. Watch out for Simms, Harris and Castillo coming of age to battle for a place in the pecking order as well.
Honestly, don’t be a bit shocked if Hyrin White and Case Cook make the opening-game two-deep depth chart, while Borom may need more time to develop but already has SEC size.
Overall grade: B+. An A grade is reserved for a dominant unit, and I don’t think Missouri’s reached that level. Auburn and Alabama had lines that could impose their will on opponents last season, demoralize the other team. The Tigers weren’t quite that — and part of it is the style of offense, an Air Raid attack prone to runs of three-and-outs when the passing game isn’t clicking — but Elarbee’s boys were incredibly effective and certainly well above average as a collective group. With even more reinforcements, the potential for dominance may be on the horizon in the coming years.
QUARTERBACKS | Drew Lock settles in atop quarterback depth chart
RUNNING BACKS | Damarea Crockett sets sights sky high for 2017
WIDE RECEIVERS | Receivers eye consistency to bolster offense