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Mizzou’s physical rushing duo should ease the pro-style transition

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Damarea Crockett and Larry Rountree III rarely shared the backfield last year, but that’s due to change.

NCAA Football: Auburn at Missouri Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Boasting a chiseled frame and bruising running style, Damarea Crockett is one of the most physically imposing players on Missouri’s roster. While recovering from the shoulder injury that prematurely ended his 2017 season, however, he’s relied on his mind.

“Mentally, not being where you want to be on the football field and knowing that you gotta get better everyday,” Crockett said when asked what his toughest hurdle has been. “There’s nothing that you can do to speed up the process but stay the course. That’s been the hardest thing.”

During the offseason the junior running back has focused on letting his shoulder heal while getting back into the mindset of “just running how I run.” When spring camp started, he found himself surprised by how his body reacted.

“I thought I was just gonna come on the field and be the same guy, but it’s not like that,” Crockett said. “I was rusty. I had to get back in my groove. It’s been tough.” He’s been feeling better, though, and will have the chance to finally get back on the field at Memorial Stadium in Mizzou’s Black & Gold Game on April 14.

“It’s gonna feel good just to be back in the stadium,” Crockett said. “Just since I haven’t been in there in so long suited up. That’ll feel amazing, man.”

It’ll also give Mizzou fans a chance to see the duo of he and Larry Rountree III for the first time this year.

The two played in just five contests together in 2017, and Rountree III didn’t hit his stride until after Crockett got hurt.

“He looks good,” Rountree III said when asked about Crockett. “Even after the injury, when he was warming up at the Texas Bowl game and we knew he wasn’t gonna play, he still looked [good]. His feet [are] still the same, his power [is] still there.”

Rountree III finished the year with 703 yards and six touchdowns, while Crockett had 481 yards and two scores. They’re both expected to put up much larger numbers this year, but they won’t be the only ones taking carries.

“It’s a lot of talk about me and him being the one-two punch. But you’ll see when the season hits: me and Damarea and all the running backs, we’re just gonna go out there and fight for every inch and lower our pads,” Rountree III said.

Tennessee v Missouri
Larry Rountree III
Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Redshirt freshman Isaiah Miller has missed the last few practices of spring camp due to injury, but he’s expected to see snaps this fall. The 5’11, 200-pound power-back ran for 1,225 yards and 14 touchdowns in his senior year at Jacksonville (Fla.) Baldwin High School in 2016.

Drew Lock made sure that we didn’t forget about redshirt sophomore Dawson Downing, either. “You can never count Dawson Downing out,” he said. “But no, [Crockett and Rountree] are gonna be a great one-two punch for us.

“Those two guys, they’ll be a force to be reckoned with,” Lock said. “I’m excited to see how they counter each other, because we didn’t get much of it last year, but we’ll see a lot of it this year.”

It’s still a work in progress, but Missouri offensive coordinator Derek Dooley’s new offense is coming into form.

A more complex and communication-heavy system will naturally lead to the Tigers’ offense runner much slower than in recent years.

“It’s a little more set-in-stone rules, and I think that clears my head up, which in the end clears everybody’s head up,” Lock said. “I think you’ll see us operate a little bit slower, but it’ll be a lot more clean in my mind.”

Lock now has the responsibility of interacting with the offensive line to make calls and adjust to blitzes and coverages. Gone are the days of saying one word and trying to snap the ball as quickly as possible.

“Last year, they would make the calls and I wouldn’t necessarily have to key in on that,” Lock said. “But I’m keying in on everything they say every single play, which makes it fun. It’s a new side of the game that I wasn’t necessarily used to.”

Wide receivers have a lot more routes at their disposal and words assigned for each of them, cutting down on the amount of guessing that their quarterback has to do. This makes memorization a necessity, which can consume the unprepared.

“I really enjoy it. It tests your brain a little bit,” Lock said. “I think you need that. You’ve got to go out there mentally sharp, and that’s the tougher part for all quarterbacks, really. If you’re not on the mental side out there, you’re gonna be eaten alive in this offense.”

Mizzou hasn’t thrown everything out from last year, however, as the explosive offense was highly productive and put up a lot of points. Expect to still see them go into hyper-speed from time to time.

Winning, obviously, is the chief goal for any team. Many student athletes, though, have always dreamed of playing in the pros. Making it there isn’t easy, but Dooley has been making the task seem less daunting for his offense.

“He knows what it takes,” Lock said. “The more and more you get around it, I think the more and more you get comfortable with what it takes to be at the next level. What it is, how they talk, plays they run, just all the little intricate stuff that I didn’t necessarily think I was exactly ready for. I think that’s just what he’s bringing for me. It’s perfect, it’s exactly what I was hoping for as far as being able to get prepared for the next level.”

Crockett agrees.

“It’s been amazing,” he said. “He’s been introducing us to new parts of the game and just broadening our minds as far as football goes. I really like it. He’s teaching us a lot about football and things that we can use at the next level. I feel like that’s the most important thing.”

If nothing else, Dooley has proved he keeps it real with the team so far and makes it clear he has the best interests in mind for those with their eyes set on the pros.