Washington accepts new role on and off football field

Friday, April 17, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT
Junior running back Derrick Washington played in all 14 of the Tigers' games last season.

COLUMBIA – Missouri football has come to be associated with speedy offensive drives resulting in bunches of points. But as soon as the 2008 college football season ended, the expectation of seeing the Tigers score lots of touchdowns seemed to end too.

After losing quarterback Chase Daniel, wide receiver Jeremy Maclin and tight end Chase Coffman, among others, skeptics began questioning how Missouri will be able to replace their offensive output.

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One answer is to spread the ball around more, which means more touches for junior running back Derrick Washington.

Washington is coming off a 1,000-yard rushing season, but his results were overshadowed by Missouri's prolific passing attack. Washington played in all 14 games and carried the ball 177 times.

Next season, Washington will be sharing some of those carries with redshirt sophomore De’Vion Moore, but as the more experienced back, Washington has to be prepared for an increased workload.

“He’s going to be a workhorse in our offense,” offensive coordinator Dave Yost said.

Yost said that with sophomore Blain Gabbert stepping in as the starting quarterback this season, the running game will be much more important than when Daniel was around.

“Chase Daniel was doing a lot of stuff by the end of his time playing quarterback that we’re not going to ask Blaine Gabbert or any of the quarterbacks to do early on,” Yost said. “So we’re going to rely a lot on the tailbacks to take pressure off the quarterback as much as possible.”

Yost said there are no set plans for how Missouri will balance the offense between passing and running, but he aims to incorporate the running game as much as possible.

“A lot of it has to do with what the defense wants to dictate to us,” he said, “but we’re definitely going to try to establish the run game and lean on it and use those guys.”

Washington said he hasn’t even talked with Yost about how many times he should expect to touch the ball in 2009, but he wants the running game to become a more prominent part of the offense.

“Hopefully it’s leaning towards running the ball a little more because the running backs would love that,” he said.

Washington wasn’t trying to knock any of the quarterbacks and was quick to praise Gabbert on how quickly he has progressed, saying Gabbert’s already exceeded his expectations. At the same time, Gabbert was quick to express how happy he is to have a returning starter in the backfield with him.

“He’s going to be a very valuable part to our offense,” Gabbert said.

The value of Washington’s experience goes beyond the field. Yost said Washington has already stepped up as a leader.

“He’s busting his tail and doing the right things and he’s a good football player,” Yost said. “The best way to be a leader is to be a great football player first and that’s what he’s working on being.”

Washington might come across as soft-spoken at first. And with all the seniors on the team last season, he wasn’t looked at as a leader. But Washington said he’s had no problem being vocal and adjusting to his new role.

“I’m leading the guys,” he said. “I’m leading by example, and if they ask me questions I can tell them what to do.”

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