It's foolish to think that David Yost would yank too hard on the reigns of his offense, but he does acknowledge that a slight change in philosophy is in order.
As Missouri's quarterbacks coach for the past eight seasons, Yost has been a co-architect of the Tigers' explosive spread offense over the years, tutoring formers pupils like Brad Smith and Chase Daniel and paving the way for them to put up record-breaking numbers.
Now in his first season as offensive coordinator, Yost still has plenty of toys at his disposal, but inexperience among his players is forcing him to change his mode of thinking.
After losing talent at a number of positions, most notably Daniel and wide receivers Jeremy Maclin and Chase Coffman, Yost's mission will be to construct an effective offense around an experienced backfield to keep the unit as a whole afloat until some questions are answered.
It's an approach that may not necessarily come natural to Yost, who helped orchestrate a Missouri attack that threw the ball 148 more times than it ran it last season, but it's one he fully embraces while he brings along his next star at quarterback—sophomore Blaine Gabbert.
“Using those guys [the running backs] in any way we can and getting the ball in their hands in space is what we want to do,” Yost told the Columbia Daily Tribune during spring practice. “But leaning on the run is something we definitely want to do with having a new quarterback and the depth and talent we have at tailback and the guys up front we have.”
When the Tigers did run the ball in 2008, they were effective.
Led by sophomore tailback Derrick Washington, who ranked 36th in the country with 5.9 yards per carry, MU produced 153.8 yards per game and more than 2,000 yards for the season—two stats that may seem low compared to others around the nation but were more than enough to merely supplement the team's absurd passing numbers.
Now that the big-name superstars from last season's offense are gone, the task turns to increasing those numbers, while Yost adds some wrinkles to his offense to showcase the talents of Washington and that deep backfield, even if that means moving some of his favorite passing plays to the back of the playbook.
Missouri's version of the spread will never resemble a run-oriented offense, but this season's unit might be the closest thing, at least for a while.
But it's nice to know the Tigers have the talent to pull it off.
Derrick Washington (5'11", 225 lbs., Jr.)
The second Chase Daniel ended his career with an overtime bowl victory against Northwestern last December, the offensive captaincy switched hands in Columbia.
With Blaine Gabbert set to take over behind center, and a slew of wideouts taking the field for the first time in 2009, Washington is suddenly the senior leader of the Tigers' offense. And, thus, he will be relied upon heavily. But it's not like he didn't pull his weight last season.
Despite playing with a troublesome cyst on this left knee for nearly the entire season, Washington rushed for 1,036 yards on 177 carries and ranked 11th in the nation with his 17 touchdowns as a sophomore, his first year as a starter.
Washington also contributed in the passing game, catching 29 passes for 277 yards and two more scores. Especially considering all the weapons the Tigers featured in 2008, Washington's performance was impressive to say the least, even when it seemed at times his production on the ground got lost amid Mizzou's dizzying aerial assault.
Yet, in 2009, he'll have to be even better.
The Missouri staff hasn't been shy this offseason about announcing their intentions to place a significant portion of the workload on Washington's shoulders, at least until Gabbert finds his comfort zone and some of the young receivers get acclimated to the system. But for Washington, who averaged 6.38 yards on each of his 14.7 touches per game last season, the extra work is welcomed.
Derrick Washington (Columbia Missourian)
"I got to come out and do better than I did last year and do what I can for the team to win," Washington told Power Mizzou earlier this summer. "If I'm getting the ball a lot more, I love that. Anybody would love that."
Held out for much of spring ball after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his injured knee, Washington insists he'll be 100 percent by the time the Sept. 5 season opener against Illinois rolls around.
The perfect fit for Missour's zone blocking running scheme, which thrives on utilizing cutback lanes, Washington is an effective slasher between the tackles and also has the power to take on defenders. And his speed is deceptive, evident only when he breaks into the open field and is able to separate from tacklers.
Add that to his prowess for catching passes either out of the backfield or lined up out wide, and Washington is well-equipped to handle the demands of his newfound role.
De'Vion Moore (5'9", 195 lbs., RSSo.)
Don't make the mistake of assuming Moore's playing time will diminish as a result of Washington's increased presence. Though smaller than Washington, Moore brings things to the table that Washington cannot, most notably his top-end speed through the hole and into open space.
Thus, it only makes good sense that Moore would also benefit from the Tigers' increased concentration on the running game in 2009.
The definition of a shifty back, the redshirt sophomore from St. Louis' Hazelwood Central High School was a pleasant surprise as the No. 3 running back last season. Rushing for 231 yards on 41 carries, Moore finished with an impressive 5.6 yards per carry and one touchdown in 13 games.
And he showed what he's all about on one carry last season, sprinting 58 yards untouched down the sideline en route to the end zone in a win over Colorado.
Now the roster's No. 2 back, Moore figures to follow an impressive spring—during which time he was named the No. 1 back in the absence of the rehabbing Washington—and an even better preseason camp with a busy 2009.
Moore's natural ability and maturity in MU's scheme will allow offensive coordinator David Yost the luxury of using his two top backs in the same formation, interchanging both Washington and Moore between the backfield and on the line of scrimmage as a receiver.
Gilbert Moye (6'2", 220 lbs., RSSo.)
The wild card in Missouri's running back rotation, Moye makes the conversion from defense this season after spending his first two years in the program making news off the field rather than on it.
Once regarded as a prospect at free safety, the former high school quarterback was suspected of assaulting his roommate in September of 2007, during his redshirt season. Then he was suspended by head coach Gary Pinkel for the Alamo Bowl in December for what Pinkel called disciplinary reasons.
After a few suspect seasons in Columbia, the native of Jasper, Texas, is ready to contribute.
An absolute athletic specimen, Moye, who was a significant part of the kickoff return unit in 2008, gives the Tigers' an unfamiliar but intriguing dimension in the backfield. By far the tallest and heaviest of the Missouri running backs, Moye is the power to Washington and Moore's finesse, capable of bringing more of an NFL feel to the Tigers' ground game. Now the key will be seeing the field.
Right around the time he was making an impression during spring camp, Moye suffered a hamstring injury that limited his effectiveness for the remainder of his audition process.
Needing a solid preseason camp to help his cause, Moye has shown promising flashes, but the combination of problems holding onto the football and some fierce competition from incoming freshman Kendial Lawrence has put his role for 2009 into question.
The official 2009 regular season depth chart was released on Monday, and Moye was nowhere to be found. With Lawrence listed as the No. 3 back, we are left to assume that Moye is fourth in line, meaning his role will be confined mostly to mop-up time and special teams.
Lawrence is the newest MU back (Dallas Morning News)
Kendial Lawrence (5'9", 177 lbs., Fr.)
Awash in the sea of prep football talent that resides in the Lone Start State, Lawrence wasn't exactly a star recruit coming out of high school, but it's hard to imagine why.
In his final two seasons at Texas' Rockwall Heath High School, the diminutive Lawrence excelled in the school's spread attack, rushing for more than 4,000 yards and 60 touchdowns, including 2,679 and 43, respectively, during his senior year of 2008.
He possesses excellent vision through the hole, reads his blocks well, and can run away from defenders when he reaches space—all attributes that are coveted in the Tigers' offense.
To use a bit of slang, Lawrence is a two-strider, meaning, once at full speed, he is able to cover five yards at a time with only two strides.
Despite his basic understanding of the TIgers' offensive scheme, Lawrence—who also received offers from Iowa State, Kansas, and Arizona—will need some time to soak in the intricacies, but don't expect the learning curve to hold him back.
Just three weeks into his college career, Lawrence has earned the No. 3 tailback job with a preseason camp that was defined by a number of highlight-reel runs. I wouldn't suspect Lawrence will see significant playing time in the season-opener, but it is realistic to think his role will be expanded during the softer portion of the non-conference schedule in preparation for Big 12 play.