The Missouri Tigers missed out on a pair of running back recruits on Wednesday, but new coach Barry Odom was able to sign two who could make a difference in the future.
The Tigers signed Hinds Community College running back Natereace Strong and Little Rock (Ark.) Christian High School running back Damarea Crockett, two players who break the mold of the smaller, faster backs primarily signed during the Gary Pinkel era.
Odom was asked at his Signing Day press conference Wednesday evening about the additions at wide receiver and running back — two areas the Tigers need better production from going forward.
“The roster at this point, at both of those positions, we believe that there’s the skill set to go be successful,” Odom told reporters. “The wide receiver group is still a young group, but we addressed there with a graduate transfer and junior college player to get a little bit older at that spot. Then the running back position, with a junior college guy coming in and then a high school kid, we’ll be creative enough to give ourselves an advantage running the football.”
Strong is a 6-foot, 211-pounder from East St. Louis who will have three years of eligibility remaining. Crockett is a 5-11, 212-pounder who recently flipped his commitment from Boise State to Missouri.
Crockett rushed for 1,475 yards, averaging 6.5 yards per carry, and scored 22 touchdowns as a senior when Christian went 12-1. He has 1,250 yards and 19 touchdowns in eight games during his injury-shortened junior campaign.
Witter had 518 yards rushing, averaging 4.1 yards per carry, and one rushing touchdown. Hansbrough gained 426 yards rushing, averaging 3.9 per carry, and scored one touchdown.
Those numbers were way down from Mizzou’s output in previous seasons, snapping a streak of four straight seasons with a 1,000-yard rusher.
In 2014, Hansbrough (1,084 yards rushing, 10 TDs) and Marcus Murphy (924 yards rushing, four TDs) combined for 2,008 yards rushing in 14 games.
In 2013, Henry Josey (1,166 yards rushing, 16 TDs), Hansbrough (685 yards rushing, four TDs) and Murphy (601 yards rushing, nine TDs) provided a three-headed monster in the backfield.
The Tigers will have a new offensive scheme under Odom and new offensive coordinator Josh Heupel, but they will need more production in the running game than they got in 2015, especially with a young quarterback group led by rising sophomore Drew Lock.
Hansbrough and fellow senior Tyler Hunt have used up their eligibility, but Odom returns a group that includes some promising players like Witter, Trevon Walters, Marquise Doherty and Chase Abbington in addition to Wednesday’s two signees.