Between Henry Josey, Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy, Missouri running backs coach Brian Jones has no shortage of talent to work with.
However, Jones said they had all better show one quality, in particular, if they hope to see the field as much as they would like this fall.
“We’ve got to protect our quarterback,” Jones said. “You’ve got to have somebody in there that won’t get the quarterback hurt. So protection is something we work on everyday.”
They better. When teams blitz, it often leaves a running back exposed to blocking a defensive end or linebacker. Considering Josey, Hansbrough and Murphy all stand around 5 feet 9 and weigh about 190 pounds apiece, that can be a tall, but necessary, task.
“You just have to get your mind right – it’s all attitude,” Jones said. “You have the defensive end, who is maybe 250, 260 (pounds) and you’re 190, but you still have to get the job done. It’s going to boil down to how much toughness you have.”
To that end, Jones said he is pleased with the group’s willingness to embrace that part of the game, adding that Hansbrough’s ability to pick up the blocking aspect of the offense is one of the reason he played as a true freshman last fall.
“Russell really surprised me as a blocker,” Jones said. “He’s a great example in that he had built-in toughness, built-in hip snap, so he was great to work with in terms of blocking. He is one of our best blockers.”
Jones said Josey is also a willing blocker.
“He is good,” Jones said. “He needs to improve, but he’s gotten much better and he does a great job for us also.”
All three have already shown they can run the ball. Josey, of course, ran for 1,168 yards and nine touchdowns in 2011 before a serious knee injury ended his season, while Hansbrough (156 yards on 37 carries) and Murphy (258 yards on 46 carries) each got some important experience last season.
“Henry is a deceptive gilder,” Jones said. “Russell is a sharp cutter and accelerator, he’s got tremendous quickness. And Murphy, I’ll use the word slippery but he’s a deceivingly tough runner, too.”
Jones was then asked if junior running back Greg White and redshirt freshman Morgan Steward, who are fourth and fifth string on the depth chart, respectively, have a chance to work their way into the mix.
“Greg has really gotten better,” Jones said. “We’re trying to find who our short-yardage guy is and Greg has ability. He’s a big guy so he can do a lot of stuff for you. Morgan, he’s getting better everyday. He’s got a really bright future.”
But before any Missouri running back can see the field, Jones said the coaching staff has to feel comfortable with their ability to protect the quarterback. It all starts there.
“It’s technique and toughness,” Jones said. “If you’re not willing, you’re not going to play. That’s the bottom line.”