Tiger football adapts for new season

Junior Derrick Washington leads the pack of rushers this season.

Sophomore quarterback Blaine Gabbert sends the football downfield to a waiting reciever during practice Saturday morning at Faurot Field. Gabbert is the front runner for the starting spot on Sept. 5 when the Tigers face Illinois in St. Louis.

Last year, Tigers football finished third in the Big 12 with 4,625 passing yards. As for rushing, the team ranked sixth in the conference with 2,153 yards on the ground. More than two-thirds of Missouri's offense came through the air in 2008.

This year, things appear to be different.

The Tigers lost their top three receivers from last season, and, more importantly, the quarterback who threw to those receivers.

Most teams would be worried, but the Tigers are not like most teams. Instead, they will alter their approach and focus the offense more on junior Derrick Washington and a group of highly skilled running backs.

"Derrick is the whole package," coach Gary Pinkel said. "He's a great kid, has a great work ethic and is very talented. He makes plays; he's consistent all the time. Very, very mature. He came in that way."

Last season, Washington rushed for more than 1,000 yards and 17 touchdowns. On the receiving end, he added 29 catches and two scores.

With his ability and the turnover on offense, Washington will be relied upon more heavily in the coming season.

"We've been doing a little bit of that in camp," Washington said. "Any time I have the opportunity to have the ball in my hands a little bit more, I'm going to try and make the most of it."

But it's not just a one-man show in the backfield.

While Washington will be the featured back, sophomore De'Vion Moore will get plenty of touches as well.

"De'Vion Moore is as good of a backup as we've ever had," Pinkel said. "And he's not really a backup, he's a starter-type player who's going to play a lot."

Moore did not have a difficult season last year, but he certainly did not have the seamless transition of his counterpart. His numbers were good — 41 rushes for 231 yards and a touchdown — but he spent the offseason trying to improve his overall game.

"I definitely feel that I've gotten better at catching," Moore said. "Everybody has their own individual thing that they're getting better at. For me, catching was an issue starting off. I'd come in, get some extra hours of seven-on-seven, get my time in, and I feel a lot more comfortable catching the balls now."

This year, the Tigers might have as many as five running backs suiting up. Younger players, such as freshman Kendial Lawrence and redshirt sophomore Gilbert Moye, should see some time on the field.

Even with the competition, all the backs pull for one another.

"We're like a family out there," Washington said. "When we watch film, we'll tell each other, 'You should have done this,' or ask 'Did I miss this?' We can go back and ask each other, and we know they'll tell the truth and let us know."

Moore echoes those sentiments.

"There's nothing we do without talking to each other," he said. "If we make mistakes, if we're doing well, we let each other know. We help each other out in every aspect that we possibly can, be it on the field or off the field."

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