COLUMBIA — Missouri senior Jayson Palmgren said he can’t remember ever playing center in a game before, college or high school.
He’s about to.
Palmgren is scheduled to start at center for the Missouri football team in its season-opening game against Miami of Ohio on Saturday at Memorial Stadium. It’s just one of the shuffles made to the offensive line because of injuries.
Palmgren’s debut at center is made possible by the Achilles injury that has sidelined junior center Travis Ruth since Aug. 15. He has missed every practice since, wearing a protective boot on his foot.
“It’s getting there,” Ruth said during Monday’s media availability, still wearing protection on his foot. “It’s a little slow. They had me out of the boot last week trying to do some rehab stuff. Just decided it wouldn’t be ready for Saturday, so we got the cast back on today. Just taking it day by day right now.”
Ruth and coach Gary Pinkel said they hoped Ruth would be ready for the team’s second game against Arizona State, but, in the meantime, Ruth’s injury and the season-ending knee injury to Elvis Fisher have caused the coaching staff to shake up the offensive line.
Sophomore Justin Britt will start at left tackle Saturday, replacing Fisher. Palmgren, who was originally slated to be the team’s starting left guard, will slide over and play center during Ruth’s absence. Junior* Jack Meiners will start at left guard. Senior Austin Wuebbels will play right guard, and senior Dan Hoch will play right tackle.
Ruth has been giving Palmgren pointers on how to better play center, and Palmgren’s fellow linemen have confidence he will do well Saturday.
“He’s been doing good through practice,” Britt said. “Under those lights, anything can happen, but he’s an experienced player. He knows how it is under the lights with a big crowd. I think he’ll be fine. I just hope he’s loud on the snap calls.”
Britt is no stranger to changing positions along the offensive line, beginning his career at Missouri as a left guard. Last season, he was switched to a right guard, and Saturday, he will be debuting at left tackle.
Britt said his versatility is a positive, and his teammates all praised the line’s depth. Offensive coordinator Dave Yost said that, as a contingency plan, different linemen have been practicing at different positions in recent practices. Yost said he never expected to see Palmgren start the season at center, but he's glad he was there to step into the position.
“I know this: when Travis does get back,” Yost said, “Jayson Palmgren can play center. He’s been playing center for us going on 12 days, and he’s done a really, really good job. If you would’ve told me last year when the season ended that Jayson Palmgren was going to replace Tim Barnes at center, that would have not been my first guess of the guys we had.”
Despite the lingering injuries on the offensive line, other units on the Missouri football team are beginning to heal.
In the secondary, safeties Kenji Jackson and Matt White have returned to the depth chart after sitting out the final preseason scrimmage. Jackson missed two weeks of practices with a hamstring injury, and he said he’s never had a long injury like this one.
“It’s been just weird,” Jackson said. “Going out to practice, seeing things go on, you wish you could get in ... you just want to be out there. It’s football, and it’s what I love to do. It’s been kind of tough. But I understand injuries, they need rest, and you’ve got to think about the long haul and the duration of the season.”
One member of the secondary — cornerback Kip Edwards — remains injured and has been listed as doubtful for Saturday’s game. Wide receivers Jerrell Jackson and Gahn McGaffee are listed as doubtful, as well.