COLUMBIA — Kendial Lawrence is shocked. But he’s far from overwhelmed.
After Derrick Washington’s suspension last Thursday, the sophomore tailback moved from second on the depth chart to first string. He and the other three backup tailbacks, De'Vion Moore, Henry Josey and Marcus Murphy, are ready to step up after Washington’s permanent suspension Wednesday.
“You just have to be ready for everything,” Lawrence said. “That’s why coaches are always on you to work your hardest.”
Lawrence shrugged as he discussed his move to starting tailback. For him, it’s simply a fact. He will run onto the field at the Edward Jones Dome on Saturday with Blaine Gabbert, Jerrell Jackson, and the rest of the first-team offense. There’s no need for him to think too much about it.
Tigers coach Gary Pinkel was similarly blunt in his analysis of the current tailback situation.
“We move them over, move them up,” Pinkel said. “That's what we do. There's no excuses. Some other people have to pick it up and play at a different level."
Playing at a different level should be no problem for Lawrence. He says he has been playing at that level throughout preseason camp.
“I come out every day just practicing my hardest, trying to get better and better my team each day,” Lawrence said. “It’s all so when things like this happen and the game comes, we can be on our top game.”
Moore, Missouri's No. 2 tailback in 2009, agrees that stepping up to a starting role should not be difficult for Lawrence, or for any of his teammates.
“Every year, every game, every play, somebody’s leadership or level of intensity is going to have to increase,” Moore said.
Moore spoke positively about Lawrence’s speed and ability to catch the ball. He also said that people don’t know as much about Lawrence’s skills as they should.
Lawrence, who started spring 2010 practices ranked as the No. 3 tailback, has relied on his experience as well as his skills to fuel his move up the depth chart. He said he feels he has grown more mentally than physically since his freshman year, when he played in 11 games and rushed for 219 yards.
“I have more knowledge of the game and the system,” Lawrence said. “I know the schemes and just all the plays, and that helps a lot in this offense.”
Lawrence knows the team needs more than his talent at tailback right now — it also needs leadership. Lawrence and Moore hope to provide that leadership in the absence of Washington, one of the most vocal leaders on the team.
“I’ve always felt like a leader on the team, even as a younger player,” Moore said. “As far as having a bigger commitment? No, I feel as if it’s just as even as it was when Derrick was here. I feel like we have a team composed of a lot of leaders, and people just lead in their own, different and separate ways. I feel like my way of leading is always going to be the same.”
Lawrence agreed that his leadership abilities won’t change, but he knows that a lot of people, especially Josey and Murphy, are looking up to him.
“For the most part, everyone wants to be a leader, and there’s nothing wrong with that,” Lawrence said. “Those are my little brothers, and just being a leader for them is the least that I can do. Just helping them, keeping them motivated, they’ll keep thinking positive.”
Between Moore and Lawrence, the team has plenty of leadership and experience at tailback. Both saw playing time in the game against Illinois last season and are ready to take the field.
“I feel prepared,” Moore said. “We put the time in, and we put the work in to go out and compete, to go out and perform.".”
Neither Lawrence nor Moore smiled when discussing their moves to the No. 1 and No. 2 spots, respectively. Their new roles are duties that they’ve assumed during a difficult time for the team, and that’s all. They know what they need to do, and Pinkel believes that they have the skills to play at a high level he expects
"When the dust settles, I think they're excited for the opportunity and also feel the responsibility and accountability to their team,” Pinkel said.