Last year’s struggles could bode well for MU offensive line

Sophomore offensive lineman Evan Boehm hands a Tiger helmet back to a fan after adding his autograph during Sunday’s Mizzou Football Fan Day at Faurot Field in Columbia.

Sophomore offensive lineman Evan Boehm hands a Tiger helmet back to a fan after adding his autograph during Sunday’s Mizzou Football Fan Day at Faurot Field in Columbia. Photo by Kris Wilson.

COLUMBIA, Mo. — For all the trouble Missouri had with its offensive line a year ago, there is a silver lining: Experience gained.

After a year of new faces, shuffling around and at times pure chaos, there is a sense of confidence among some of Missouri’s offensive linemen that last year’s difficult time only made them stronger.

“A lot of guys had to step up,” left guard Max Copeland said. “Experience aside, it also revealed some character in some guys because you know when the chips are down, and there’s a lot of people watching, and you’re asked to step up, that’s when you find out what’s inside you. It’s pretty amazing to see.”

Except for Justin Britt, most of Missouri’s starting offensive linemen were thrown into the fire a year ago and had to learn while switching positions on the fly.

This year’s starting line in center Evan Boehm, Copeland, right guard Connor McGovern, right tackle Mitch Morse and Britt at left tackle combined for 43 starts last season. Prior to last season that group had 13 career starts, all from Britt.

“We didn’t know each other as well last year,” Boehm said. “When you look at the lines when Mizzou had successful seasons, you can tell by watching on TV how close-knit they were. Last year (with) everybody getting thrown into the fire, my first year, Max getting in there his first year, and Mitch, we didn’t know how to interact with each others strengths and weaknesses.”

In past years Missouri has been known for its experience up front. A.J. Ricker started 47 games (2000-03), Adam Spieker started 50 games (2004-07) and Tim Barnes started 40 games (2008-10). Elvis Fisher had 40 starts under his belt before suffering a knee injury prior to the start of the 2011 season. Had he been able to play in 2011, that group of offensive linemen would have had 105 starts between them when the season started.

This year, a lot will be expected from Boehm. He started all 12 games last year as a true freshman at left guard. He moves over to center this year.

“I just look at how long it took me to start figuring stuff out, and how he had to learn everything on the fly and he took it in stride,” Copeland said of Boehm. “I’m proud of him because he had a very short time to learn what took other guys years to master. I have a great deal of respect for him for doing that under those kinds of circumstances and thriving.”

The line will likely benefit from its time in the weight room. Boehm has put on 25 pounds while Copeland has added 10 pounds.

This group still has a lot to prove. Missouri allowed 29 sacks last year, ranking 87th nationally in sacks per game. The problems were a nightmare for Missouri’s quarterbacks. James Franklin was hit constantly and battled shoulder injuries, missing all or parts of six games.

Some of that was because Missouri trailed so much it had to throw the ball more than normal. But some of the issues were due to breakdowns up front.

“It’s always tough and frustrating when you have injuries,” Franklin said. “And not to use it as an excuse, but just getting to know those guys and building chemistry with the guys that are starting, a couple of them go down, moving around. I think as a whole they really are going to be good and they are going to give us the time we need and I’m pretty excited about that.”

Now this group, which includes two sophomores and a junior, hopes last year’s experience helps the group come together.

“We plan to have a very effective line,” Copeland said. “That’s our vision for the offensive line. That’s going to be our cornerstone and we’re excited to assume that role.”

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