COLUMBIA — As the Missouri football team moves to accommodate a new offensive coordinator in Derek Dooley and line coach Brad Davis on the side of the ball that returns everyone on the two-deep except J'mon Moore and Jason Reese, things have been particularly different for the offensive line.
It wasn't too long ago Missouri's offensive line had eight healthy bodies to use during drills at practice. Now, the Tigers are three or four deep at every position, which is a welcome change.
Davis, too, has made an immediate impact. Linemen described a charismatic, energetic, relatable coach who is able to keep up with their quick wit and make things fun — Davis got his phone out to record offensive lineman Paul Adams during Wednesday's media session — but who can also make them lock in during drills.
But the biggest shift has been to what several players called an "NFL offense," which means more time between snaps, giving the defense more time to get set, and generally drives designed to control the clock and tempo by using more plays, rather than speed, deep shots and punts on three-and-outs.
"There's not tricks up our sleeves, we're not putting pressure on our defense with having a 27-second drive, we're trying to take control of the game," redshirt senior offensive lineman Kevin Pendleton said. "Score points, but also dictate how the tempo and how the pace is going to be ran and how the game's going to go."
"It's not going to be like it was last year," Adams said. "We're going to have drives that are 10-play drives, and that's just something we aren't used to."
The new system will be less of the quick screens and immediate deep shots of the past two years, and instead depend on route combinations that may take a little longer to develop. For the offensive line, that means holding blocks longer and giving Drew Lock as much time with a clean pocket as it can. They've been working on conditioning during the limited summer period to prepare.
"It's a big boy league," Pendleton said. "If your coordinator feels like you can attack their secondary, we need to have a complex route scheme and Drew needs more time, then we've got to do it. If we're asked to do it, we've got to do it."
Davis and the offensive line have been working throughout the spring on assessment and diagnosis of how a defensive front aligns before the snap, Pendleton and other linemen said, and what rushes are more likely to come out of those alignments. Film study and practice repetitions have given the linemen protecting Missouri's backfield the confidence to not only make a pre-snap read of the defensive front but also call it out to one another, something Pendleton said was not happening in previous years.
"Mentally I think it will be better for us to see what we're going against and actually handling our heads," junior offensive lineman Yasir Durant said. "That's the big thing (Davis) installed with us is, knowing what the defense is doing before they do it. So if you know that, you've got an advantage on them every time."
The Tigers' offensive line was one of its strong suits last season, and allowed 13 sacks in 13 games, tied for fifth-fewest in the nation. Part of that was due to the speed of Missouri's offense, but part, too, was the team had the SEC's largest offensive line by average height and weight.
Pendleton is 6-foot-4 and 330 pounds, and Tre'Vour Simms and Durant are both 340 pounds. Outweighing a defensive lineman by 30-40 pounds and having a quarterback throw the ball within three seconds of the snap creates an offense that is sack-averse.
The challenge this season will be to hold those blocks for longer on passing downs. But where in the past the usual assignment was to find whoever was in front of you and keep him away from Lock for as long as possible, Dooley's offense will present more opportunities for combination blocks and other schemes up front. NFL teams frequently use linemen to double-team at the line before one lineman climbs to the second level to pick up a linebacker on run plays, and double teams have been an emphasis of the new staff to the offensive line.
"If you look around the board, we have massive people on our O-line," Durant said. "Why not use it to our advantage? That's a really good way to break down teams. Two 315-, 320-pound double-teams going on on either side of the ball, it really works to our advantage."