COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Shortly before spring camp started in April, Missouri offensive lineman Evan Boehm approached coach Gary Pinkel with a request.
“I asked for a chance to move to center and show him what I have,” Boehm said.
Pinkel obliged and apparently liked what he saw after allowing the former left guard to take snaps during scrimmages.
With the season opener against Murray State less than four weeks away, Boehm is Missouri’s projected starter at center.
Only a sophomore, the 6-foot-3, 315-pound native of Lee’s Summit will anchor a line that struggled with injuries during its first year in the Southeastern Conference.
The five linemen projected to start the 2012 season only made 23 of a possible 60 starts at their designated position, causing Pinkel to say it was the worst injury situation he had ever experienced in 22 years as a head coach.
A silver lining for the group is that it returns four starters, headlined by Boehm — the only lineman to start every game in the Tigers’ 5-7 campaign. He has been taking extra snaps before and after practice to build confidence. He says he’s got plenty of work to do, though he can be his own worst critic.
“He’s a consummate competitor,” offensive line coach Bruce Walker said. “He’s never happy. He’s always striving to get better. He can probably be one of the best (linemen) that’s ever been here.”
Tackle Justin Britt and guard Max Copeland, the only seniors on the four-deep depth chart, will help Boehm.
One of Missouri’s most experienced players, Britt has 22 career starts and says he is fully recovered from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee that forced him to miss last season’s final three games.
“This is a new year,” Britt said. “This is my last year. People like me and Max, seniors, you don’t realize it until you’re a senior how important your last year is and what you want to do.”
Copeland emerged a year ago as a result of the line’s injury woes, earning a scholarship early in the season and starting 11 games at right guard.
Known around the team for his love of heavy metal, the wiry, blond-haired physics major said he knows not much separates him and backup Mitch Hall.
“You learn something new every day, as long as you choose to learn it,” Copeland said.
Junior tackle Mitch Morse (11 career starts) and sophomore guard Connor McGovern (none) round out the line, which will be tested by the SEC’s rugged defenses.
Missouri’s quarterbacks only attempted 14.3 passes per sack in 2012, seven fewer than in the previous year in the Big 12. When the Tigers went a combined 22-6 in 2007-08, they averaged 30.2 pass attempts per sack.
Those additional sacks primarily affected quarterback James Franklin, who missed four starts last year with shoulder, knee and head injuries sustained during games.
Injuries to both the line and Franklin left Missouri gaining only 4.9 yards per play — 13th in the SEC — compared to 6.4 in 2011.
For the Tigers to regain their offensive footing, members of the line know they have to protect Franklin, who is now a senior.
“He’s our guy,” Britt said. “He’s our captain. So, no one will touch him. Might as well treat him like our little daughter.”
Pinkel and new offensive coordinator Josh Henson are just hoping to avoid a repeat of last year.
“Really, right now, I’m just worried about getting five guys out there that can play and get done what we need to get done,” Henson said. “I think anything beyond that will be icing on the cake.”