Mizzou camp preview: Offensive Line

On Sept. 1, Missouri will kick off the third season in the Eli Drinkwitz era with a home matchup against Louisiana Tech. The entire month before then will be used to prepare for a campaign that feels like it could go a long way toward defining Drinkwitz’s Missouri tenure.

Fall camp, the official start of full-time practices, will begin Aug. 1. Each day between now and then, we will get fans set for camp by breaking down the Tiger roster one position at a time. In today’s preview, we finish breaking down the offensive side of the ball by looking at the offensive line.

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Javon Foster (76) and Xavier Delgado (72) are among the players with starting experience who are back on the Tiger offensive line in 2022. (Liv Paggiarino)

The Starters

Missouri brings back quite a bit of experience up front, although the Tigers will have to replace veteran starting center Michael Maietti. The offensive line appears it will also be without Hyrin White, who started last season at right tackle, for at least part of the year. Drinkwitz said at SEC Media Days last week that White will miss the start of the 2022 campaign, although he has not yet been ruled out for the season.

If there’s one sure-fire starter on the offensive line, it’s Javon Foster. The former two-star recruit has blossomed into a solid left tackle. Foster started all 13 games a season ago and graded out as the Tigers’ second-best offensive lineman behind Maietti, per Pro Football Focus.

The competition to replace White at the other tackle spot should be wide open. Zeke Powell, who started much of the season at left tackle in 2020 and backed up Foster a season ago, has moved to the right side of the line and took most of the first-team reps during spring practices. However, since then the staff has added junior college transfer Ma’Kyi Lee, and Lee told PowerMizzou that they like him at right tackle. There could be a couple other players in the mix as well, but those two seem like they have the best odds to start.

There should be competition across the interior of the line, as well. Connor Wood looks to be the most likely starter at one of the two guard spots, most likely right guard. The Montana State transfer played all over the line of scrimmage a season ago, starting games at left guard, right guard and right tackle, so he could line up just about anywhere on Sept. 1, but we’d be surprised if he’s not in the starting lineup in some capacity. At the other guard spot, Luke Griffin and Xavier Delgado bring the most experience to the table. Delgado has started 16 games at left guard across the past two years. Griffin made six starts last season, five at left guard and one at right guard. Delgado graded out slightly better as a pass protector last season, per PFF, but Griffin got the edge in run blocking.

Finally, the most interesting position battle on the offensive line will be at center. The Tiger staff brought in Bence Polgar from Buffalo during the offseason as the apparent successor for Maietti. However, redshirt freshman Connor Tollison reportedly made a strong impression during spring practices. Polgar has the edge in experience, having started 12 games a season ago, 11 of them at center. But Tollison, a Jackson, Missouri native, has drawn rave reviews from the coaching staff since he hit campus. Expect the competition to extend well into fall camp.

The Backups

The above names aren’t the only offensive linemen with a shot to work their way into regular roles this season. Another three players — Bobby Lawrence, EJ Ndoma-Ogar and Dylan Spencer — have all started games for Missouri in the past. Lawrence, a fifth-year senior, made two starts at left tackle in 2020 and one at right tackle last season. However, the 6-foot-9 giant suffered a leg injury during that game that kept him sidelined through spring practices, so he might have some catching up to do in the competition at right tackle. Ndoma-Ogar started in Missouri’s win over South Carolina and played well. The Oklahoma transfer will likely factor in at one of the guard positions. Spencer has had the strangest career arc of the bunch. The Mississippi native started two games at left guard as a true freshman in 2020. However, midway through the season he transferred to Jackson State. He then transferred back to Missouri prior to this year. Drinkwitz was clear that Spencer will have to work his way back up the depth chart, but it wouldn’t be a shock to see him factor into the competition at left guard or right tackle.

Other names to know include Drake Heismeyer and Mitchell Walters. Both are third-year players out of St. Louis who have yet to see much playing time. Heismeyer has worked at both center and guard, while the 6-foot-8 Walters is a pure tackle.

Finally, the Tigers signed four true freshmen in the 2022 class on the offensive line. Rarely do we expect a true freshman to see meaningful snaps on the line of scrimmage in the SEC, and that remains the case this season. But if there’s an exception, it could be Armand Membou. The Lee’s Summit North product was on campus for spring practices and can play both right tackle and either guard spot. He will at least have a chance to show what he can do during camp.

Camp Storyline to Watch

Who starts at center? And how much does Missouri miss Maietti? On paper, this looks like it could be the deepest and most talented offensive line for the Tigers during the Drinkwitz era, but replacing a veteran like Maietti is easier said than done. Considering the early-season road tests at Kansas State and Auburn, Missouri can’t afford to have too steep a learning curve with a young quarterback and new center.

PowerMizzou prediction

The two starting spots that are easy to forecast are Foster at left tackle and Wood at right guard. We think Powell starts at right tackle, at least until White returns to the field, and we’ll give a slight edge to Griffin at left guard. However, it wouldn’t surprise us if Delgado, Ndoma-Ogar or even Spencer earns the top spot there. The battle at center truly appears wide open. We are going to go out on a bit of a limb and predict Tollison wins the starting job over the more experienced Polgar.

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