University of Missouri

MU wants return star Marcus Murphy involved in offense, too

Updated: 2013-09-18T18:37:01Z

By TOD PALMER

The Kansas City Star

— The word is out on Missouri junior Marcus Murphy.

Both Murray State and Toledo avoided kicking to Murphy as often as possible during the Tigers’ first two games of the season, which shouldn’t come as a surprise after his breakout sophomore season.

“He really hasn’t had as many opportunities as we want,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. “People are kicking away from him.”

It’s a wise strategy, but the Tigers aren’t content to let opposing teams neutralize Murphy with touchbacks and directional punting.

That means Murphy will see more touches on offense, giving him a few more chances each game to break a big play.

“We’ve spent some time trying to figure out ways to get him the ball, because he’s a guy obviously when you get him out in space he does a real nice job with the ball in his hands,” said Josh Henson, who took over as Missouri’s offensive coordinator after four seasons as co-offensive line coach.

Last season, Murphy averaged 24.1 yards on 17 kickoff returns, including a 98-yard touchdown return against eventual national champion Alabama.

Murphy was even better on punt returns, averaging 13.9 yards — second-best in the Southeastern Conference and 10th in the nation. He also returned three punts for touchdowns, tying Jeremy Maclin’s MU career record.

Despite his special-teams accolades, Murphy’s touches from scrimmage were limited. He finished with 46 carries for 251 yards and nine catches for 22 yards in 2012.

But this year, Murphy already has 15 carries for 112 yards and has matched his career-high with two rushing touchdowns in the season’s first two games.

“We’re trying to get him more involved any way we can,” Pinkel said.

Murphy, 5 feet 9 and 195 pounds, welcomes the increased workload.

“I always want to be more involved in the offense, but I just want to do whatever I can to help the team,” Murphy said. “My hopes are always to be a playmaker on the field. I had a little success last year, but my main goal was to come out and do even better, contribute a little more to the team on offense and in the return game.”

Officially, Murphy remains behind junior Henry Josey and Russell Hanbrough, both 5-9 and 190, on Missouri’s depth chart, but Murphy knows his chances are going to come.

“We rotate backs a lot to keep fresh legs on the field and I’m ready whenever they call my name to go in the backfield and make a play,” he said.

The Tigers are counting on it.

“Marcus is a versatile kid,” Henson said. “He could probably almost play slot receiver for us, because he’s got those kind of skills. He’s a guy we obviously want to get the involved in the game. It’s fun to have some weapons like that.”

To reach Tod Palmer, call 816-234-4389 or send email to tpalmer@kcstar.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/todpalmer.

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