ShowMeMizzou.com continues our Preseason Position Previews with a look at the running back position.
Missouri returns a one-thousand yard rusher in senior Russell Hansbrough. He’ll top the Depth Chart, and he’ll carry the football as much as possible. That’s the catch, because Hansbrough hasn't been an every down back. In past seasons, he’s been most effective when he’s averaged around 15 carries per game. Throughout Hansbrough’s career, increasing his number of carries has often resulted in his being banged up, and either being unavailable, or playing at less than optimal effectiveness. So while the Tigers do have a high-quality starting tailback, the challenge for Missouri is to identify and develop some other backs to help carry the load.
Hansbrough heads into his final season at Mizzou with 1908 yards (5.4 yards/carry) and 14 rushing TDs for his career. With a repeat of last season, Hansbrough could close out his Missouri career as one of the leading ball carriers in school history. Heading into fall camp, there are few positions on the 2015 Missouri Tigers where the starter is as clear-cut and established as is Hansbrough. But after the senior starter, the tailback position is anything but clear and established.
If he comes to camp healthy, junior Morgan Steward would be a strong candidate for regular playing time. He’s been out for almost a year with a hip injury, and at this writing, his availability for this season remains in question.
As a red-shirt freshman in 2013, Steward rushed for 84 yards and 1 TD on 21 carries.
Last year, Ish Witter rushed for 101 yards and 1 TD on 27 carries. The sophomore struggled this spring, but he probably comes into camp as Hansbrough’s primary back-up.
The last couple of seasons, fifth-year senior Tyler Hunt has been a regular contributor on special teams, where he has registered 11 total tackles. For his career, he’s returned 4 kicks for 78 yards, and he’s carried the football from the line of scrimmage 3 times for 10 yards. As camp gets underway, Hunt will probably be squarely in the mix.
Early this spring, red-shirt freshman Trevon Walters tore an ACL, and he missed the rest of the spring. He’s expected to return to the field early in the season, but I’m not sure if he’ll be ready by the beginning of fall camp?
So as you can see, behind Hansbrough, it’s a mixture of the injured and the relatively unproven. It’s my opinion that the Tigers need at least three running backs ready to play in a rotation. They can get by with two, as long as they both stay healthy. But three works better. After Hansbrough, the position is wide open, and it sets up some serious competition for a couple of spots this fall from among any and all healthy backs.
Adding to that wide-open competition are a trio of newcomers, including freshmen Ryan Williams and Marquise Doherty, and junior college transfer Chase Abbington. Doherty and Williams will surprise some people with how good they are. Like Abbington, they each provide Missouri with a little bit bigger back than the Tigers have had of late. Come September, either one, or maybe even both, of the freshmen could be in the playing rotation.
Here’s what the Depth Chart might look like at tailback to begin Fall Camp:
32 Russell Hansbrough 5’9” 190 (S)
21 Ish Witter 5’8” 190 (So)
35 Tyler Hunt 5’11” 215 (S)
24 Miles Drummond 5’11” 215 (J)
40 Andrew Stevens 5’9” 195 (J)
46 Stephen Blakely 5’11” 225 (So)
5 Marquise Doherty 6’1” 201 (F) OR
Ryan Williams 6’0” 185 (F) OR
Chase Abbington 6’2” 216 (So)
36 Morgan Steward 6’0” 210 (J) (injured?)
20 Trevon Walters 5’10” 210 (F) (injured?)