Mizzou camp preview: Running back
It’s been an offseason like no other for the Missouri football program. The Tigers fired four-year head coach Barry Odom following a 6-6 2019 campaign, replacing him with Eliah Drinkwitz. Drinkwitz cleaned house on the offensive side of the ball, then just after the team began holding spring practices, the COVID-19 pandemic hit college sports. Missouri had to cancel 12 of its 15 originally scheduled practices, as well as the Black and Gold game, in the spring. While the team was able to return for voluntary strength and conditioning workouts this summer, which have since transitioned to mandatory practices, the Tigers have still only once taken the field in pads under Drinkwitz’s watch.
Despite all the uncertainty that continues to swirl around the 2020 season, Missouri and the rest of college football are scheduled to begin fall camp practices Aug. 7. So, each day between now and then, PowerMizzou is previewing the Tiger roster one position group at a time, breaking down the depth chart and providing the storylines to watch for what should be the most important fall camp in recent memory. Today, we examine the Tiger running backs.
If there’s one position on the offensive side of the ball that Missouri fans can enter the 2020 season feeling good about, it’s running back. The Tigers bring back two established contributors in senior Larry Rountree III and junior Tyler Badie to the position. Rountree, who experienced a bit of a dip from his 2018 production but still rushed for 829 yards and nine touchdowns as a junior, figures to be the nominal starter. The physical, downhill runner topped 1,200 yards during his sophomore season, including a 204-yard performance against Oklahoma State in the Liberty Bowl. Rountree ranks No. 6 on Missouri’s career rushing list and is only 450 yards away from second place.
Rountree will be joined in the backfield by Badie, whose explosiveness and receiving ability make him an excellent change-of-pace back. Badie has rushed for more than 400 yards in each of his first two collegiate seasons. Last year, he emerged as a dynamic receiver, leading the Tigers with 32 receptions and catching five touchdowns. Badie has the ability to run between the tackles, but his strength is his ability to make people miss and accelerate away from defenders in the open field. It will be interesting to see how Drinkwitz finds ways to get him the ball, because Badie has the ability to generate more of the explosive plays Missouri’s offense sorely lacked during the latter half of 2019.
Dawson Downing will be back for his senior season after playing an expanded role as a junior. The former walk-on has been a special teams stalwart his entire career, but he received 40 carries — up from 28 during his first two seasons combined — while serving as Missouri’s third running back in 2019. Downing parlayed those touches into a 5.7 yard average and his first career touchdown, scored when he willed his way into the end zone against Ole Miss.
While we expect Downing to see the field in some capacity, just because he served as the third back last season doesn’t mean he has the spot locked down. Junior Simi Bakare, another player who has shouldered a large special teams workload, could be in line for more carries this season. Newcomer Elijah Young joins the mix as well. Following a decorated high school career in which he earned Gatorade Player of the Year honors in the state of Tennessee as a senior, Young enrolled early at Missouri, although the curtailment of spring workouts likely prevented him from making much of an impression on the coaching staff. Still, it wouldn’t come as a surprise for Young to get some in-game opportunities early in the season before the staff decides whether to burn a year of eligibility or not.
Storyline to watch
Will the staff find ways to put Rountree and Badie on the field at the same time? Former offensive coordinator Derek Dooley talked about doing so, but it rarely wound up happening. But especially this season, it would make sense — the duo are the Tigers’ two most proven offensive weapons. Drinkwitz comes to Missouri with a reputation as a creative offensive mind, and Badie might be the team’s most versatile playmaker, so it wouldn’t come as a surprise if he lines up all over the formation in 2020.
Out of all the positions on Missouri’s roster, we can predict this one with the most confidence (barring injury, of course). Rountree is going to start, but Badie will see plenty of carries. The only real competition comes at the third running back spot, where it wouldn’t be a surprise to see a rotation of reps until one player separates himself.
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