Two of Missouri starters on the offensive line last season were drafted into the NFL.
Lee’s Summit West graduate Evan Boehm, who never missed a start in four seasons and played in more games (52) than anyone else in Tigers history, was a fourth-round pick by Arizona and hulking left tackle Connor McGovern was a fifth-round pick by the Super Bowl champion Broncos.
The rest of the Tigers’ line last season, for the most part, was a shamble and it hampered the offense.
Improving up front is critical for Missouri’s fortunes in first-year coach Barry Odom’s inaugural season, but there’s precious little proven depth on the roster.
The Tigers’ situation is further complicated, because junior Nate Crawford, who was set to be the team’s most-experienced returning starter, retired recently after undergoing back surgery for the second consecutive summer.
That leaves many more questions than answers for new offensive-line coach Glen Elarbee, but we’ll try to answer them as The Star’s position-by-position preseason roster breakdown continues:
Returning starters: Alec Abeln, junior.
Other returning contributors: Paul Adams, sophomore; Samson Bailey, sophomore; Kevin Pendleton, sophomore; Adam Ploudre, junior.
Newcomers: Trystan Castillo, freshman; Jonah Dubinski, redshirt freshman; A.J. Harris, redshirt freshman; Darvis Holmes, freshman; Tyler Howell, junior; Tyrell Jacobs, redshirt freshman; Kyle Mitchell, sophomore; Tanner Owen, redshirt freshman; Tre’vour Simms, freshman, Michael Stannard, senior.
Projected 2016 starters: LT Tyler Howell, LG Alec Abeln, C Samson Bailey, RG Kevin Pendleton, RT Paul Adams
Outlook: With junior Nate Crawford out indefinitely, junior Alec Abeln is Missouri’s most-seasoned offensive lineman. He started three games at left guard last season, splitting time with Crawford (6-5, 300) after moving from center during fall camp. Abeln (6-3, 290) could wind up sticking at left guard or might slide to the middle as Evan Boehm’s replacement at center. Either way, Abeln projects as a key figure up front for the Tigers. He’s being pushed very hard by sophomore Samson Bailey (6-4, 270) for the starting spot at center. In fact, Bailey started there during the spring game and played well.
Right tackle and right guard seemed to be the most-settled positions on the offensive line entering camp. Sophomore Paul Adams, who appeared in three games last season, is sharp and well-spoken, impressed during spring practice and looks the part of a right tackle at 6-feet-6 and 290 pounds. Meanwhile, Lee’s Summit West graduate Kevin Pendleton (6-4, 315) also put together a strong spring and seems to have the inside track at right guard. Pendleton, like Adams, appeared in three games toward the end of last season.
Elarbee said he doesn’t want to play musical chairs with the players’ positions too much if it can be avoided. Depth issues meant that it couldn’t be helped during the spring, but that’s less of an issue entering fall camp after the additions of junior-college transfer Kyle Mitchell (6-5, 310) and the arrival of three freshmen — Trystan Castillo (6-4, 295), Darvis Holmes (6-5, 315) and Tre’vour Simms (6-5, 300). The Tigers will try to quickly match players up with positions and build a solid depth chart from there.
Junior Tyler Howell (6-8, 305), a Bonner Springs graduate and Butler (Kan.) Community College transfer, is battling with redshirt freshman Tanner Owen (6-5, 280) for the starting left tackle spot. Missouri would love for one or the other to grab the position by the throat. Howell, who sat out the 2015 season after being academically ineligible to enroll at MU last fall, wasn’t able to do that during the spring, but eight months of conditioning and getting re-acclimated to football might do the trick. Another option would be to shift Adams to left tackle, but Howell and Owen probably get a crack at locking down left tackle first.
At left guard, Mitchell and Blue Valley graduate A.J. Harris (6-4, 285), a redshirt freshman who also has spent time working at center, figure to be in the mix along with — potentially — Holmes, Castillo, junior Adam Ploudre and perhaps even Simms if he’s blocked at tackle but deemed one of the Tigers’ five best linemen in fall camp. Ploudre and converted defensive tackle Tyrell Jacobs, who also could be in the guard mix, bailed out the Tigers during the spring when Mizzou didn’t have a two-deep of healthy scholarship offensive linemen.
Senior Michael Stannard also has appeared on Missouri’s roster. He’s a 6-foot-2, 290-pound Columbia-Rock Bridge graduate and transfer from Memphis, where he started six games as a sophomore and one as a junior last season. He played in high school for first-year Tigers director of recruiting A.J. Ofodile.