Behind the wide receivers and defensive line, the Missouri football team’s biggest question mark might be at running back.
That’s more about rounding out the depth than it is about who’s going to be the workhorse, because senior Russell Hansbrough is well-established as a game-breaking back.
Hansbrough is the first returning 1,000-yard rusher the Tiger have had since 2009. He finished with 205 carries for 1,084 yards and 10 touchdowns last season, but more is expected in 2015.
“First of all, he’s got to stay healthy, and we’ve got to be smart about what we do,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. “He’s proven that he can play. We’d like for him to get more reps this year. Like any player, you’re really good, but to be great you have to go that extra amount. And it’s really hard to be great.”
Durability has been an issue at times for Hansbrough during the last two seasons, particularly a shoulder injury that has cropped up several times, but he hasn’t missed a game in that time.
He reached double-digit carries only three times in 2013 and never rushed more than 13 times in a game, but Hansbrough reached 20 carries three times last season and Missouri was 8-0 in games Hansbrough carried at least 15 times.
“It’s really easy to block for the guy,” senior left tackle Connor McGovern said. “You make any kind of hole, he’s getting through it and he’s going to hit it hard. He’s not a guy that will get come to a smaller hole and prance around. If he sees something, he’s hitting it.
“There can be times when that’s a little painful if he runs into you or something, but he always good about apologizing if he does run into. That’s not his fault. That just means we need to move guys better.”
The pads came on Monday for the first time, but Pinkel said the evaluation process doesn’t change.
Scrimmages will be critical, because it’s as close to live-action football as Missouri will get during camp. But Pinkel said those 37 snaps are just part of the evaluation process.
Right now, it’s about finding out where players fit best and honing the techniques required to make the Tigers’ schemes efficient.
“We’re doing a lot of good things, but I’m not real concerned about that,” Pinkel said. “I’m concerned with whether we’re fixing problems — whether they’re fundamentals, techniques, whether they’re offense and defense schemes, kicking game or whether we’ve got players in the right spot, wrong spot. We’re constantly evaluating personnel. We’re working hard, which is really good, but we’ve got a lot of work to do, which is typical of this time of year.”
Simon expects to play in scrimmage
Senior safety Ian Simon remained sidelined because of a hamstring injury, but he expects to be ready in time for Saturday’s first scrimmage of fall camp.
Senior Cortland Browning and sophomore Anthony Sherrils are the working the first string in Simon’s absence.
Simon is expected to play right safety in the Tigers’ new defensive alignment, while Browning and Sherrils are battling for the starting job at left safety.
Sherrils currently is atop the depth chart, but all three players should rotate through once the season begins on the Missouri defense’s back end.
In other injury news, redshirt freshman running back Trevon Walters had surgery in March to repair a torn ACL.
He said he’s running again and doing some zig-zag work, but he’s not cutting at full speed and doesn’t expect to be released from rehab until October.
Pinkel seemed more optimistic about Walters’ timetable.
“He redshirted last year, so we can play him at any time,” Pinkel said. “He’s doing a lot better. Are we going to get him back maybe the first of September and just kind of bring him along depth-wise? … How he’s doing in three weeks will have a lot to do with kind of what we do, especially with those freshman running backs.”
Walters’ status will impact Winnetonka graduate Marquise Doherty and Lee’s Summit West graduate Ryan Williams, who could be in line for redshirt seasons if Walters is expected to return quickly.