MISSOURI RUNNING BACKS
Stats: Rushed 126 times for team-high 518 yards, averaging 4.1 yards per carry, and one touchdown. Caught 15 passes for 143 yards. His 661 total yards were a team high.
Analysis: Witter emerged as the starter a year ago as a sophomore because of Russell Hansbrough’s injury issues and led the Tigers in rushing, with Hansbrough’s 436 yards on the ground ranking second, but didn’t become a difference-maker for the struggling Missouri offense. The Tigers need more from him in 2016, but they will have other options if he can’t provide more. The talk out of spring practices was Witter worked hard to get bigger and stronger and was running harder with a lower pad level. If he can continue his improvement, he should be able to be a good contributor this fall even if he gets unseated as the starter.
Year: Redshirt senior (graduate transfer)
Stats: In 36 games over three seasons at Oklahoma Ross rushed for 786 yards on 123 carries, averaging 6.4 yards per carry, and five touchdowns. He also had 11 catches for 66 yards.
Analysis: Ross played three seasons at Oklahoma before opting to transfer for his final year. He could be exactly what the Tigers need on offensive if he’s able to produce at running back and kick returner. He’s a bit of an unknown because he didn’t get a lot of carries during his time at OU but he’s a bigger back than Witter and more experienced than Missouri’s other alternatives in the backfield. He earned some All-America recognition as a kick returner in 2014.
OTHERS TO WATCH
Analysis: A highly-rated running back at East St. Louis (Ill.) High School, Strong arrived in Columbia by way of Hinds Community College in Mississippi with a reputation as a strong and physical runner with good size and speed. He’s been hampered by injuries in the past, including last season at Hinds, but there’s no denying he’s a talented running back. There will be a lot of eyes watching him during camp and he’ll have a chance to compete for playing time.
Year: Redshirt sophomore
Analysis: Walters redshirted in 2014 and then missed the 2015 season after suffering an ACL injury during spring practice. He had an opportunity to improve his standing on the depth chart in the spring but it seemed like he failed to take advantage. Walters recorded back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons in his final two high school campaigns, including rushing for 1,704 yards in 2013.
Year: True freshman
Analysis: Crockett, who made a late switch from Boise State to Missouri during the recruiting process, was the lone freshman running back the Tigers signed in February and gives the team another bigger and stronger option in the backfield. A source told us Crockett put on 20 pounds of muscle after arriving on campus this summer and he’s now up to 225 pounds. Crockett rushed for 1,475 yards and 22 touchdowns in 13 games as a high school senior in 2015.
Year: Redshirt freshman
Analysis: Williams is a smaller back, in the mold of Witter and Walters, and will be looking to prove himself after redshirting last season as a true freshman. Williams rushed for 925 yards and 10 touchdowns on 126 carries as a senior at Lee’s Summit West in 2014 after helping to lead LSW to a Class 5 state title in 2013.
The Missouri rushing attack wasn’t very effective in 2015, racking up just 1,385 yards, averaging 3.5 yards per carry and 115.4 yards per game and accounting for a total of five touchdowns. Four of the top five rushers have all moved on because of graduation or transfer. The good news for the Tigers is their backfield should look a lot different this fall with the additions of Ross, Strong and Crockett. The running game could certainly be helped by better offensive line, quarterback and wide receiver play in 2016 also.
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