Missouri football's Murphy comfortable with position changes

Saturday, August 16, 2014 | 8:03 p.m. CDT
Missouri tailback Marcus Murphy carries the ball 10 yards for a touchdown as Indiana safety Greg Haban attempts to make a tackle during the first half of a Sept. 21, 2013, game in Bloomington, Ind.

COLUMBIA — Marcus Murphy is a playmaker in transition. 

The redshirt senior led Missouri in all-purpose yards last season, including 601 yards rushing from his regular tailback position. He made several All-American teams for his kick and punt return abilities and scored 10 total touchdowns. 

Murphy also played a part in Missouri's receiving game, grabbing 11 receptions, including one for a touchdown. This season, his coaches want Murphy to play an even bigger role. The team plans to use Murphy frequently at both positions to start the season, coach Gary Pinkel said after the team's second scrimmage Saturday.

"I've always caught passes out of the backfield," Murphy said. "I've lined up in the receiver position before. Running the ball is just natural, but I play all around on offense."

To some players, the inconsistency could be troubling. Murphy, though, said he isn't concerned about how he is listed on the team's depth chart and only wants to make plays.  

Missouri offensive coordinator Josh Henson also isn't worried about labeling Murphy a tailback or receiver just yet. 

"To me, the good news is he looks awesome in both places," Henson said. "My opinion is we just need to use him as much as we can."

Murphy played exclusively as a tailback Saturday, rushing five times for 34 yards. During the team's first scrimmage, Murphy ran the ball once and caught four passes. Quarterback Maty Mauk said Murphy's work in the slot has made him a better all-around tailback.

"For sure," Mauk said. "Obviously when you're playing receiver there's a lot more twisting and turning (while) catching balls."  

Mauk referred to a play Saturday to emphasize his point. 

Mauk was falling back in the pocket while Murphy was running out of the backfield. Mauk's ball wasn't thrown well, but Murphy adjusted his body to come back to it. Although he couldn't make the tough catch, Mauk said he thinks with time Murphy will make these types of plays — both in the slot and in the backfield. 

Murphy said the biggest adjustments he's had to make playing slot are reading coverages and getting his timing down with Mauk. But the upperclassman already has a leg up on many of the team's young receivers in this aspect. The team is only returning three players who caught a touchdown last season. Seniors Bud Sasser, Darius White and Murphy each caught only one touchdown.

It's Murphy's experience that prompted Henson and Pinkel to experiment with him even before the team's receiving depth was reduced last month after Levi Copelin was suspended for the entire season.

Pinkel said coaches will decide Sunday where Murphy will play this coming week, which is the team's final week of fall camp. But come the team's first game Aug. 30 against South Dakota State, expect Murphy to play at his preferred position — anywhere he can. 

"You'll see him play running back and receiver," Pinkel said. "You're going to see him do both in games." 

Supervising editor is Raymond Howze.

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