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2012 Missouri Walkthrough: Running Backs

Photos via Bill Carter (of course).
Photos via Bill Carter (of course).

Previous Walkthroughs

We want to claim uncertainty in terms of running back personnel for the fall, really we do. We want to think that while the current, healthy unit of backs has a solid amount of potential, there could be help in the form of a miraculously healed Henry Josey lurking, and we want to think the 0.5-percent chance he has of playing in 2012 after his "one in a million" knee injury is really more like 50-percent. But deep down in our sad hearts, we know that we probably won’t get to enjoy the incredibly fulfilling Henry Josey Experience™ again until, potentially 2013. Admitting this is the first step toward our own emotional recovery.

Josey’s injury was an incredibly sad end to an uplifting tale. Mizzou entered 2011 with what they thought was a four-headed monster at running back. Veterans De’Vion Moore (senior) and Kendial Lawrence were matched by a pair of sophomores in waterbug Marcus Murphy and the venerable Josey. But then Murphy was lost for the year before the season began, Lawrence got hurt in Game No. 1, and Moore got hurt near the beginning of Game No. 2. By halftime of the Arizona State game, the rotation consisted entirely of Josey and walk-on Jared Culver. And that was enough.

Josey rushed for 357 yards on just 23 carries against Arizona State and Western Illinois, and just like that, he was the primary ball-carrier, and an all-conference caliber back, even when Lawrence and Moore returned. All told, Josey rushed for at least 100 yards in seven of eight games before tearing his ACL, tearing his MCL and rupturing his patellar tendon in a single awkward tackle midway through the Texas game.

From there, however, Lawrence stepped up and kept the train a-rolling. After rushing just 69 times for 195 yards in the season's first nine games, he rushed for 371 yards on 66 carries in the final four. Moore threw in 171 yards on 24 carries in his final three games as a Tiger, and Mizzou continued to win despite the loss of their leading rusher.

In 2012, however, the story is a little different. Lawrence isn't filling in -- he's now the man. Murphy returns, as do Culver and a pair of intriguing freshmen. It is a patchwork of different bits and pieces, and the upside is not as high without Josey, but this is certainly still an intriguing unit capable of taking pressure off of the passing game.

Kendial Lawrence (5’9, 190, Sr., Rockwall, TX)

2009: 52 carries, 219 yards (4.2); 3 catches, 49 yards
2010: 73 carries, 422 yards (5.8), 4 TD; 5 catches, 56 yards
2011: 119 carries, 566 yards (4.8), 5 TD; 14 catches, 77 yards

The Beef: GET UP-FIELD KENDIAL!!! If we get the Kendial from the end of the year, then I am not going to worry (as much) about what I believe to be the inevitable absence of Henry Josey. But the Lawrence from the beginning of the year is just not going to cut it next season, especially not in the SEC. I think he has the ability to be the "every-down back" that Mizzou employs (remembering we really don’t usually use someone on EVERY down), but he is going to have to hit the holes he is provided. I also think his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield will continue to keep him in the mix. Whether he runs with purpose will make the difference between the first down guy and the third down guy.

RPT: There is no glaring absence in Kendial Lawrence’s metaphorical football toolbelt. Yet, no tool in the toolbelt is a weapon of the game-changing variety, a sad return to reality after 10 games of Henry Josey in 2011. Lawrence is mid-career Tony Temple-ish in the manner in which he approaches running lanes, hitting them on occasion with a decisive first step and mentally paralyzing himself into missing them on other occasions. Thanks to JOSEYPLOSION™ last season, it’s easy to forget just how high reporters were on Kendial after Spring ball last year. They alluded to a ceiling the likes of which he hasn’t touched in regular season play, and if that Kendial can transfer that performance into games, that invigorates a Missouri offense that goes from "pretty strong" with a simple plug-n-play back to "fully dynamic" with legitimate playmaker at tailback.

The Beef: JOSEYPLOSION™ done.

Bill C.: The comparison to Temple is a good one. With a lot of the zone blocking schemes Mizzou was prone to run, Temple would string a play wide, then attempt to dart through the moment he found a crease. This was good when there was a crease to be found, but it often led to losses and minimal gains. It is a bit of an all-or-nothing style, and Lawrence shares it. When the blocking is good, Lawrence is more than fast enough to take advantage; and to be honest, he is every bit as fast as Josey in the second level. The difference between the two runners last year, however, was simply the amount of time the two players got to the second level.

In 2012, Lawrence will get as many carries as his heart desires, at least as long as he remains healthy. He is a nice mix of agile and strong, and he should certainly suffice as long as he retains his late-season form. He is not an all-conference caliber back, but neither was Temple, and Mizzou managed to win plenty of games with Temple manning the backfield alongside Chase Daniel.

It is difficult to believe that Lawrence is already about to be a senior. It seems like just yesterday a certain Rock M Nation poster predicting not just great things for the young man from Rockwall, but the greatest things.

(The saddest part: Lawrence wasn't a freshman until Rock M Nation's third season in existence. We're getting old.)

Marcus Murphy (5’9, 185, So., DeSoto, TX)

2010: 22 carries, 181 yards (8.2), 2 TD; 2 catches, 5 yards

Bill C.: Of all the backs in the stable last spring, I was most impressed with Murphy. He seemed to have surpassed even Josey in both his decisive running style and his ability to catch passes out of the backfield. He was one of the stars of the Black & Gold game, rushing three times for 18 yards and catching four passes for 43 yards and a weaving, 32-yard touchdown. And then he got hurt, Josey seized the moment in the spotlight, and Murphy was, however briefly, forgotten. If he is healthy -- and initial reports sounded as if he was at or near full-speed in bowl practices -- then he could be a candidate for a nice spring surge. Moore has graduated, Josey is probably out, and neither of the incoming freshmen report until summer, so Murphy will get a full opportunity to win the starting job. I will still assume Lawrence emerges from the spring as No. 1, but do not be too terribly surprised if Murphy steals the show.

The Beef: I suppose if you had asked me to put height and weight numbers to Lawrence and to Marcus Murphy, I would have made Murphy an inch shorter and probably 10-15 pounds lighter. The fact that he appears to be closer to Lawrence in size makes me feel a little better about his potential place in the lineup. I foresee him possibly factoring in on the special teams side, and trust me when you read me saying I am very HOPEFUL of his potential to add numbers that were similar to what Lawrence added in 2010.

RPT: It’s a fool’s errand to guess how Murphy’s injury might affect his running style (and, by extension, his kick returning style). As I’ve stressed since his days at DeSoto, his best asset was always his decisiveness (a marked advantage over the more experienced back ahead of him on the depth chart). His formula is simple: Great vision, good speed. Murphy now needs to prove he didn’t lose either in his absence. When he was recruited, he was the perfect (if somehow overlooked) kind of diverse scatback for that Missouri offense. I remain interested in seeing how Murphy’s speed element either complements or clashes with Franklin’s power game.

Jared Culver (5’11, 250, Sr., Downers Grove, IL)

2011: 16 carries, 111 yards (6.9), 1 TD

Bill C.: I hereby demand that only thick, sub-six-foot, 240+ pound running backs are allowed to wear the No. 38. Culver was incredibly Zack Abron-like in 2011, both in appearance and his ability to run faster than you think he can. Culver caught a late pass against Arizona State and recovered a key James Franklin fumble, then rushed 11 times for 86 yards and a touchdown against Western Illinois. For the season, he gained 119 yards on just 17 touches, though most of his playing time did come late in blowouts. He proved himself capable in a pinch, though one has to figure that Murphy and the incoming freshmen will be given plenty of opportunities to surpass him.

Culver’s is a wonderful story. He went to junior college to play baseball but decided he missed hitting people, so he joined the Missouri football team. He has become a phenomenal glue guy and a special teams star; he figured out ways to contribute outside the realm of carrying the ball, and he recovered a fumbled kickoff return against Kansas. Every program needs guys like these, even if he probably won’t see many carries next fall.

The Beef: I think Jared will continue to see a little action here and there at times next year in short yardage situations, though I think it will end up being more as a diversion than anything. Hopefully our fine friends in the SEC wont know that we do not actually use him as a FULLBACK, even though he may have some of the physical features of one.

RPT: Western Illinois got Culverized. Place your bets now on which team gets Culverized next.

Greg White (6’1, 215, So., DeQueen, AR)

2011: 11 carries, 38 yards (3.5); 1 catch, 13 yards

The Beef: Ah Greg White. If ever you are going to break on to the scene, let next year be the year. I don’t have the infatuation some people have with the fact he is a bigger back, but I think we are going to need all the bodies we can get until others become more proven (see: above and below yet to come). But somehow I fear that if he has not figured out how to see the field yet (especially with how this season went at times), it just may not work out for him. Lord knows I’ve been wrong before; I hope will be again.

RPT: "If ever you are going to break onto the scene..." True that, Beef. The absence of DeVion Moore means a little bit of a question mark hovers over the running backs as it pertains to red zone/short yardage production. Contrary to popular belief, size does not necessarily equal short yardage success by default. But if White can match or supplant the red zone/short yardage production of Lawrence (who was surprisingly and silently effect there -- 4 touchdowns on 20 carries, 5.2 yds/carry), that is a massive help in keeping defenses from just teeing off on Franklin on every option look.

Bill C.: For one reason or another, the coaching staff was not comfortable with the thought of trusting White to play real minutes last year, even after Murphy, Lawrence and Moore all got hurt. That was rather telling. He is a young guy and technically still has a while to make a contribution, but as The Beef insinuated above, the reinforcements are coming. White needs a good spring as badly as anyone on the team.

Henry Josey (5’10, 185, Jr., Angleton, TX)

2010: 76 carries, 437 yards (5.8), 5 TD; 4 catches, 19 yards
2011: 145 carries, 1,168 yards (8.1), 9 TD; 10 catches, 91 yards

The Beef: It breaks my heart to think this, then type it. I hope Henry Josey does not play next year. I just do not see where he will be anywhere near healthy enough to do so, and even though that will potentially make us thin at this position, I don’t care. I think Henry has a lot more left in him, but I only want to see it when he is completely healthy and back (if that is even possible). I want to see him rehabbing all the way through the season, and then once the calendar turns to 2013 and winter workouts start up that he will be back and ready to take over his spot. Until then, the above and below will hopefully keep it warm for him.

RPT: It’s selfish of Missouri fans to feel personally robbed of seeing Henry Josey in his prime. ALL of college football got robbed of that. Get well soon, 20. Or, to steal Beef’s thoughts, get well completely at a pace that befits a return to full form.

Bill C.: :-(

INCOMING: Morgan Steward (5’11, 185, Fr., ***, Kansas City)

Bill C.: Morgan Steward just strikes you as a prototypical Missouri running back. He isn’t tremendously huge, but he runs large, and he uses lovely vision and speed to get upfield. And his versatility could earn him some rather quick playing time. Here’s what local recruiting expert Danny Heitert told The Trib’s Dave Matter last month:

"This is a case where had he not committed to Missouri earlier, he would have generated a ton of offers," Heitert said. "He's a very versatile guy with size potential. I saw him quite a bit in scrimmages last summer and the thing I was most impressed with was his blitz pickup. He attacked rushers. He relished blocking. He caught everything. He had a sense of emphasizing the small things." Steward played tight end as a sophomore and fullback as a junior before becoming more of a featured back last fall.

Steward could potentially carve out a niche as a third-down back very quickly if he has a good summer, and his background suggests that he may be much more advanced as a blocker than true freshmen typically are.

The Beef: And here is my X factor. When the Tigers had another commitment at running back, a shiny four-star kind from the state of Texas, this was really still the one I wanted. The shiny one was great, but he was not from the type of offense that we are running here. Steward could rarely be stopped on his way to a state title this past season and I believe he needs to provide 2010 Josey/Lawrence numbers next year for Mizzou to really be successful. That way, Lawrence has a chance at 1,000 yards (though I think he will come in under that), Franklin maybe ends up leading the team, and the Murphy and and Steward combine for some decent stats (and future). All is not lost if Steward does not work out, but given how many true frosh have played for Mizzou of late at this position, I think he will see the field, and I think he will do well at the same time, especially as he appears to be a little bigger than both K-Law and Murphy. If the speed is there, I like what he might be able to bring to the table.

RPT: Right or wrong, the college careers of Morgan Steward and Arkansas signee (and one-time Mizzou commit) Jonathan Williams will be inextricably linked in Columbia. Steward doesn’t have to win an imaginary four-year race against a ghost in Fayetteville, but it would mean big things for Mizzou if he made MU recruitniks forget whom he was running against.

INCOMING: Russell Hansbrough (5’7, 165, Fr., ***, Arlington, TX)

Bill C.: Russell Hansbrough’s film is incredibly difficult to analyze. In high school, he was both quick, explosive and deceptively strong. If he is a step slower than his film suggests once he faces real defenses, then he will struggle mightily. But if he maintains what appears to have been a solid quickness advantage, then he could end up a poor man’s Darren Sproles. It all depends on how he matches up physically with other Division I athletes, and it is impossible to know that until he shows up for practice.

The Beef: Um...he’d be the smallest and maybe the fastest? I think that might be all I have to say about him. But since he switched his commitment to Mizzou, perhaps he becomes Marcus Murphy of 2010.