Our position preview for the 2017 season rolls on! Today: Offensive Line and Tight Ends. Let’s dive in.
Up first, O-Line. Going into last year, there were MAJOR questions about the Tigers’ O-Line and I could see why. The starters did not have a whole lot of experience together or much at all in general, but they actually had a very strong season. Heupel’s offense helps an O-Line with inexperience because it is that quick-hitting offense. Lock was not expected to hold onto the ball that long, but even then, they exceeded my expectations. The running game was stellar with this group leading the charge. The opened up plenty of running lanes and kept their quarterback clean for the most part. The surrendered 2.92 tackles for loss/game, which was the best mark in the NATION since that stat started being tracked in 2005. They also allowed 14 sacks, that’s 16th nationally and the best in the SEC. That is a very good place to be in. That, according to Tyler Howell is nothing, via Blake Toppmeyer.
Now, what do they do this year? The projected starters (with a friendly reminder, this can always change, but here is what I see happening week one): LT Tyler Howell, LG Kevin Pendleton, C Jonah Dubinski, RG Adam Ploudre, RT Paul Adams.
That left side of the line was rather impressive when you watched them play. Pendleton was used as a pulling tackle on a few occasions, as well as being a pulling guard, that would spring big running plays. That just shows his versatility, which is never bad to have. Howell is a BIG tackle that can keep the blind side of Lock clean. It is a nice luxury to have the blind side protected by two very capable blockers. The competition this year is very high for the starting spots and that is only good news for Mizzou. The more players are pushing each other, the higher the level of play will have to be in order to see the field. Rock M Nation’s Oscar Gamble also touched on these O-Line battles here.
Hats off to O-Line coach Glen Elarbee, truly, for his work with this group. That cannot be said enough.
Word out of camp is that Walk-On (soon to be scholarship player, in my opinion) Dubinski is going to be a monster in the trenches when it comes to handling interior linemen. After Evan Boehm graduated, the Center position was up for grabs for the first time in a while, and it appears they have that position settled. As long as the Center and the QB have a good relationship, a line will succeed. The Center is the captain of the O-Line and communication starts with him. Here’s to hoping the words from camp are true and if they are, the line should have another quality year protecting the Mizzou backfield.
Now, let’s move to the Tight Ends. Mizzou has a history of being spoiled with Tight Ends. Chase Coffman, Martin Rucker, and Michael Egnew are examples of just that in recent memory. The tight end position lately has left a little bit to be desired. Sean Culkin was supposed to be that big target that kept the TE position trending upward, but never lived up to his full potential. Injuries were a factor, but he never put it all together. He has since graduated and now we look to Jason Reese and Kendall Blanton. Reese is slated to be the starter and I see him as a better block than Blanton, but Blanton is the type of TE that can provide those big, highlight-type plays.
Mizzou has missed the TE position for the last couple years. The Tight End is someone who can bail you out of a bad situation, become a big red zone target, and just a safety net for a quarterback. Can Reese and Blanton provide that much needed spark to this position? Barry Odom and Co. certainly hope so and the jury remains out on both. Combined, these two had less than 300 yards total. They did, however, have 5 touchdowns (3 to Blanton, 2 to Reese), so there’s plenty of room for improvement but flashes were there. Especially from Blanton when he made THIS catch.
What do you expect from these two groups this season? Which Tight End will come out of camp and be the player that can ease the pressure off of Lock a bit? I’ll be back soon to continue our position previews, with my focus on DLineZou next. You can tweet me @Mhill_ and be sure to tune into Matt and Jeff everyday on The Big Show from 4-6.