Tigers’ offensive line improving

Tuesday, April 6, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 12:02 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

There isn’t as much fanfare. There isn’t as much name recognition.

That hasn’t stopped junior Tony Palmer, a weakside guard, from talking big about Missouri’s offensive line.

He sees past the youth and the daunting task of replacing four starters.

“I think this line actually has the potential to be one of the best lines to be out there in a while,” Palmer said. “Things just look really good and I’m very impressed, just looking at the physical talent guys have and how much they’re willing to be coached. They’re taking it in and learning. It has come a long way since freshman year. Things just continue to improve.”

Dave Christensen, Missouri’s offensive coordinator and offensive line coach also has high expectations of the offensive line, but after a sloppy scrimmage on Saturday, he sees much room for improvement.

“They didn’t play as well as expected,” Christensen said. “It was a break down in a number of different areas, but I’m still encouraged. I think we’ve got some really good athletes up front, and I think they’re going to be a good unit. It’s just that you’ve got to mature and experience kids, and the only way you do that is put them in the fire and let them go and correct them from there. They just need to get better each time we go out and practice.”

The Tigers finish spring practice with the Black and Gold scrimmage at 2 p.m. Saturday at Farout Field. Admission is $3 or three canned food items for the Central Missouri Food Bank.

Palmer, a 6-foot-3, 305-pound All-Big 12 Conference candidate who started 10 games at guard in 2003, anchors a line that has to replace center A.J. Ricker, tackles Rob Droege and Steven Sanchez and guard Cliff Young.

Ricker, an All-Big 12 selection, had a school-record 47 consecutive starts. Droege added 33 career starts, and Young had 20.

This group paved the way for Missouri’s offense, which set a school record with 399 points and led the Big 12 in rushing.

“That’s a great deal of starts right there from three great players,” senior Scott Paffrath said. “It hurts. I learned a lot from those guys, but we’ll overcome it and we’ve got guys who are going to step up and play well.”

Missouri’s biggest concern is depth. Last season, the Tigers had eight linemen who could rotate freely. They don’t have that luxury this year.

Paffrath, 6-5, 292 pounds, started 18 games at strongside tackle during the past two seasons, but he is replacing Droege at weakside tackle.

Senior Tony Clinker and sophomore Joel Clinger replace Paffrath at strongside tackle.

“It’s going to be a lot more pass protecting on an island by myself then what I am really used to over at strong tackle,” Paffrath said, “but you’ve got to keep working on that because that’s a tough thing, especially in the Big 12 with such tough defensive ends.”

Senior Joe Gianino joins Palmer and Paffrath as returners. Gianino, 6-3, 305 pounds, started spring practice at center after playing four games a guard last season. When sophomore Mike Cook injured his knee, Gianino moved back to guard, and freshman Adam Spieker replaced him as center.

Christensen said Cook has recovered from his injury and is competing well at strongside guard.

Spieker, 6-3, 301 pounds, had several exchange problems with quarterbacks Brad Smith and Brandon Coleman during Saturday’s scrimmage, but coach Gary Pinkel said he isn’t worried.

“We didn’t have a quarterback exchange problem the entire time last year and we’ve hardly had one any game since I’ve been coaching,” Pinkel said. “But, you’re dealing with a young player that’s had some adversity, and you have to go through that and you have to experience those things sometimes to learn, especially at a position where you handle the ball every play, but I think he’s going to be a real good player.”

“The more time, the better I’ll get, the more experience I’ll get, the more I’ll understand our offense,” Spieker said.

This mentality has impressed Palmer because the young players have to learn so much so fast.

Tyler Luellen, a redshirt freshman, has worked with Paffrath at weakside tackle.

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