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April 20, 2011

What we learned: Tailback



Missouri just finished up spring football on Saturday. Over the previous few weeks, PowerMizzou.com was at every Tiger practice. Over the next few days, we will outline what we learned at every position on the field. Today, we continue with the tailbacks.

Missouri brought back experience all over the field from 2011. But at no position did the Tigers have more proven depth than at tailback. All five tailbacks who got a carry in a game last year return (including walk-on Jared Culver). Added to the mix is Greg White who redshirted a season ago.

De'Vion Moore came into spring as the starter and performed well throughout. Moore broke off some long runs in the scrimmages and continued to display an ability to get the tough yards down near the goal line. Moore led the Tiger in both carries (99) and yards (517) a year ago and will most certainly be heavily in the mix again this year. The question is, will he continue to be the starter?

That is a question because of the spring performance of Kendial Lawrence. Lawrence has shown flashes of brilliance in his first two years, but has never been consistent enough to win the starting spot. He has the speed to be a great back, but hasn't been able to get the tough yards between the tackles as often as Moore, due in large part to a tendency to go down with the first contact. But Lawrence had a strong spring and was elevated to the No. 1 spot on the depth chart prior to the Black and Gold game. Whether he starts is a question that will be determined in fall camp, but it seems sure that Lawrence's role is likely to be increased from last year when he carried 73 times for 422 yards.

The biggest revelation of the spring may have been sophomore Marcus Murphy. Murphy got a lot of work and not only looked good carrying the ball, but looks to be Mizzou's best receiver out of the backfield. That was never more evidenced than on a 33-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown in the spring game. Murphy may have done enough to elevate himself to third on the depth chart.

Henry Josey caught everyone's eye with a three-touchdown performance against Murray State. But more than a quarter of Josey's yards for the season came in that single game. He averaged less than five yards a carry against Division One competition. Josey didn't stand out from the crowd during the spring. With so many backs and a limited number of carries to go around, that will need to change in the fall if he is going to be one of the team's top backs.

White brings size to the position that none of the other Tigers do and could emerge as an option in short-yardage or goal line situations. However, he was injured early in Missouri's next-to-last scrimmage and that cost him some chances to show off his game. Culver also showed flashes this spring, particularly on a 60-yard plus screen play in one scrimmage. If the Tigers use the two-back set the unveiled during the spring, Culver may be an option to give Missouri some significant contributions.

The Tigers have shown they will play four tailbacks. If they do use the formation with an H-back, perhaps a fifth player puts himself into the equation. But there are only so many footballs to go around. The competition to be part of the mix on the ground will be interesting to watch in the month of August.

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