The five offensive linemen listed as starters on Missouri’s final 2020 depth draw are back this fall. Case Cook and Michael Maietti each exercised their extra years of eligibility brought on by the pandemic. Xavier Delgado, Javon Foster and Zeke Powell all had time left regardless of the circumstances.
This list doesn’t tell the whole story of the Tigers’ O-line, however. That doesn’t include Larry Borom, who pulled out of the final game – the Music City Bowl, which ended up being canceled due to COVID-19 concerns – is now on the Chicago Bears. Hyrin White is also missing, having missed the season with a shoulder injury.
White is back and in the mix for playing time this year, as are Connor Wood and EJ Ndoma-Ogar transfers. Any combination of players – in any order – could be the quintet that starts the season against Central Michigan. Coach Eliah Drinkwitz wants every lineman to be comfortable at every point on the line, allowing him to send the top five regardless of position.
“If someone gets injured you get your top five players on the pitch instead of your second straight tackle, maybe your tenth best player,” he said. “So you have to be able to get people to play in multiple positions. “
Those five, Cook said, will be determined by performance over the next 24 practices, nothing else. Granted, it’s hard to imagine an injury-free scenario where All-SEC preseason selection Maietti or returning captain Cook won’t be in the starting lineup, but the setup keeps things competitive in the position room. .
The possibility of anyone playing anywhere means anyone can take a job and knock someone else down in the depth board. To take the example of Drinkwitz’s right tackle, the substitute tackle is not the only player who can take the position of starter. Anyone who is not already in programming could potentially do so. It also requires more preparation. Each player must actually learn the playbook five times to know what each position does in each game.
“We all hold ourselves accountable,” said Powell. “When one of us slackens, we tell each other. When one of us slack off on the pitch, we’re like ‘Hey, we can’t do this’. We have all taken a step forward, especially the younger ones. We think we have a lot more depth this year because we have a lot more confidence in who comes behind, regardless of the starting five. “
It is also a group which is collectively proud of its role within the offense. Drinkwitz brought two linemen – Cook and defensive tackle Akial Byers – with him to SEC Media Days in July because of the importance of online play to him. It all starts in the trenches, and that includes setting the tone for training. Drinkwitz and positional coach Marcus Johnson work harder than the other groups because it has to be the hardest on the pitch. They call in linemen who have their heads down, showing fatigue or weakness. The line is the focal point of the offense and should therefore set an example.
Despite all the reshuffles, Maietti will likely remain the hub of the center unit, where he has played every game for the past three years: at Missouri in 2020 and at Rutgers the previous two. Drinkwitz openly pressed for the graduate student to use his extra season of eligibility towards the end of 2020.
Maietti announced on December 29 that he would return for another year.
“Mike is a great guy, a great person, and he’s a great player too,” Cook said. “So to see him come back with him and his experience, especially me playing right next to him, that was great, so I can’t wait to see how much he can improve this year as well as us as a player. ‘unity.”