Center Tim Barnes says he has faith in all of the different guards that have lined up next to him this season. (Photo by Ross Taylor)
Starting lineups can be deceiving. Take Exhibit A: Missouri’s offensive line.
The Tigers’ offensive line has started the same five players through the first three weeks of the season. The center and two tackle positions, by most accounts, are on relative lockdown. Juniors Elvis Fisher and Dan Hoch represent one of the best tackle tandems in the Big 12 North, if not the entire conference, and senior Tim Barnes is a legitimate candidate for the Rimington Trophy, given to the nation’s top center.
However, coming into the season, no one was quite sure what to expect from Missouri at the two guard positions. Junior right guard Austin Wuebbels entered 2010 as the incumbent after starting all 13 games a season ago. He and junior left guard Jayson Palmgren rotated at one guard position in 2010, but the graduation of three-year starter Kurtis Gregory allowed Palmgren to step in to the vacated guard spot.
Both players struggled at times a season ago, particularly with penalties, as they combined for five infractions in Missouri’s four regular season losses, including three holding penalties while trying to contain Nebraska defensive linemen Ndamukong Suh and Jared Crick last October. The two were pushed in the offseason by redshirt freshman Justin Britt, as well as backup center Travis Ruth and backup tackle Jack Meiners, both of whom could have seen time as a result of coach Gary Pinkel’s “find the best five linemen first and then place them” philosophy.
The two have held on to their starting roles thus far in 2010 and have factored into the success of an offensive line that has performed admirably through three weeks. However, they’ve been a part of a changing cast of characters at the guard positions, as Pinkel and offensive line coaches Bruce Walker and Josh Henson have opted to run a four-man rotation at the two guard spots. At any given point, the spots can be occupied by any combination of Wuebbels, Palmgren, Ruth or Britt.
Though lack of continuity might hurt some offensive lines, Barnes, a three-year starter and a team captain, said he has faith in the abilities of all four players who have lined up next to him. Barnes is only Missouri’s fourth starting center in the last 14 years, joining a distinguished line that includes Rob Riti, A.J. Ricker and Adam Spieker, a list he expects Ruth to join next season. Barnes spoke about both the guard play and the succession plan at center on Monday: