Missouri senior running back Marcus Murphy, who split time with Russell Hansbrough as Henry Josey’s backup last season, occasionally had a hard times getting touches from the backfield.
Not that it kept Murphy from being productive.
Despite averaging fewer than eight touches from scrimmage per game, Murphy tied for third on the Tigers with 10 touchdowns — behind only Josey (17) and Dorial Green-Beckham (12).
“With a guy like that, you want him on the field as much as possible,” senior wide receiver Bud Sasser said. “Well, without killing him. … He’s a true playmaker.”
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Apparently, Missouri’s coaching staff agrees.
Murphy, who finished with 92 carries for 601 yards and 11 receptions for 79 yards as a junior, will spend the first week of preseason training camp with the wide receivers.
Tigers coach Gary Pinkel wants to get a long, hard look at Murphy as a slot receiver, an experiment that started during spring football.
“We worked Marcus today at wide receiver the entire day,” Pinkel said Monday after the first official practice of training camp. “We intend to do that for a week or so just so he can learn the system.”
The hope is that the added position flexibility will allow Murphy, who also is a standout punt and kickoff returner, to see the field more. It also will allow him to be on the field at the same time as Hansbrough in the Tigers’ one-back offense.
“With our running back depth, two-thirds of the time he’s on the sidelines or half (of the time), very close to it,” Pinkel said. “We’d rather have him on the field.”
Murphy played wide receiver at DeSoto (Texas) High School, so it’s not a foreign position and Pinkel lauded his pass-catching ability.
“With this new role, I’ll be on the field a lot more,” Murphy said. “That’s something I’m working on now, just trying to build my endurance and conditioning. … It’s hard transitioning to another position during camp, but it’s something that we have to do and I think it will make the offense that much better.”
Missouri lost a lot of production at wide receiver with the graduation of Marcus Lucas and L’Damian Washington along with Dorial Green-Beckham’s dismissal, but Pinkel stressed at SEC Media Days that it can be replaced by using different weapons, including throws to the tight end or running backs.
Or, it seems, by re-purposing Murphy.
“Honestly, I believe that I would have been in this position even if DGB (Green-Beckham) was here,” Murphy said. “The coaches said they want to give me the ball in open space, so however that can happen that’s what they’re trying to do.”
Ultimately, Pinkel hopes it’s a wrinkle that helps the offense continue churning out nearly 40 points per game.
“It allows us to look at a lot of different things,” Pinkel said. “There’s a lot of different ways to get your best players on the field. At times, he is one of our top players there perimeter-wise.”