Among the headlines for the 2014 recruiting class, Missouri signed large groups of wide receivers, offensive linemen and secondary personnel, then flipped a couple of defensive prospects late.
That left little room in the limelight for the two players it added at running back, Trevon Walters (5-10, 195) from Bradenton, Fla., and Ish Witter (5-8, 195) from Tampa, Fla.
Still, the Tigers’ staff was thrilled with both signings.
“I am really happy,” running backs coach Brian Jones said. “As a staff, we looked at a lot of running backs from this time last year — lots of guys and lots of tape.”
Walters and Witter were two players Missouri identified early as good fits for the team’s philosophy and style.
The Tigers used a three-back rotation last season and ranked among the best rushing attacks in the SEC.
But with Henry Josey, who led MU with 174 carries for 1,166 yards and 16 touchdowns, declaring early for the NFL Draft, that depth took a hit.
There will be some carries available behind Russell Hansbrough, who finished with 114 carries for 685 yards and four touchdowns, and Marcus Muprhy, who totaled 601 yards and nine touchdowns on 92 carries.
“There were a few games where there was one of those guys left to carry the ball,” offensive coordinator Josh Henson said. “Running back’s a position where everybody’s hitting you. You better be physically ready to take those hits, and you better have more than one guy.”
Morgan Steward from Staley and Greg White will have a chance to snap up some playing time, but Witter and Walters also will be in the mix.
“Ish is comparable in his own way to Russell — the size, acceleration and the speed there and so on,” Jones said. “Trevon, he’s his own kind of guy in terms of his style there.”
Jones said highlight tapes might pique his interest, but he also relies on game tape in making his final evaluation.
He said he wants “to see what he does on every down, because on a highlight tape they could make me look good.”
Jones believes Walters and Witter are complete players, who can come in and contribute quickly at Missouri.
“We do much with protection,” Jones said. “The running backs are involved with every phase of the offense — formations, route-running and everything. But they’re also offensive linemen at times. You’ve got to have enough lead in you to protect our quarterback, and that’s why size is a big deal.”
Witter and Walters are bigger backs coming out of high school than Missouri normally recruits, which might have them in line for early playing time.
“We really feel that by their junior year, they’re going to be 205, 210 kind of guys who can handle the load in the SEC,” Jones said.