Previous Position: Wide Receiver/Tight End
Although most of the offensive attention has been placed onto skill positions in previous seasons as the Missouri Tigers have put up massive numbers, little love has been shown to the offensive line, who have paved the way for three straight 1,000 yard rushers, a Heisman trophy finalist, and NFL first round wide receiver.
Well that offensive line unit might actually be the best part of the Mizzou team in 2009. With three starters returning and two other substitutes sliding in that earned significant snaps last year, the Tigers will have big bodies capable of pushing weight with the best of them.
The lynch pin will undoubtedly be All-Big 12 caliber center Tim Barnes. Barnes performed very well last year as a first time starter, and the junior-to-be will almost certainly improve in '09. Although players from bigger football schools like Texas might receive more recognition, one will be hard pressed to find a better center in the league.
The guard spots are held down by senior Kurtis Gregory, who will be starting for his third year, and putting in more excellent work. He's a given to hold his own with any player in the league. At the other guard spot will be sophomore Austin Wuebbels. As a red shirt freshman last season, he was rotated in and out of the rotation during the game, and was essentially a sixth starter. Don't expect any drop off with Wuebbels stepping in.
The tackle spots are just like the rest of the line. In the hands of young, powerful players that ooze potential. Elvis Fisher (all 6'5'' 300 lbs of him) started last year as a red-shirt freshman, coming out of nowhere in fall camp to earn the top spot, and played very well. Other than Mizzou's blowout loss to Texas, he either dominated or held his own against everybody.
Dan Hoch should be very similar on the right side. He traded snaps with Colin Brown last year (who was drafted in the fifth round), playing meaningful snaps and definitely getting good exposure. He was the top-rated football prospect out of the state of Iowa in the 2008 recruiting class, and at 6'7'' 320 lbs, he looks the part. Hoch is probably the least experienced of everybody, yet might have the most star power.
There are no stats to help predict success on the offensive line other than past success, which is not an effective way to predict future success. Mizzou has had a great offense as of late, and returns more experience and star power than any year in recent memory. Although they still might (and it is certainly not a given) struggle against top-flight schools like Texas and Oklahoma, who doesn't?
All in all, I expect this line to shock some people, like Texas Tech last year. If he can remain healthy, Derrick Washington should run for at least 1,000 solid yards behind them, Blaine Gabbert should have plenty of time to adjust as the season goes on, and Barnes and Hoch might solidify themselves as NFL prospects of the future.