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Tigers face questions

Young players make their case during Saturday’s scrimmage
Sunday, August 19, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 10:04 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008
Derrick Washington, center, rushed for 50 yards and two touchdowns in Saturday’s scrimmage.

Missouri running back Derrick Washington took the handoff from reserve quarterback Dominic Grooms, and suddenly he was back in high school, leading the Raymore-Peculiar Panthers to the 2006 Class 5A State Championship.

Washington had been unstoppable that day last November, scoring five of his team’s six touchdowns, including the clinching 68-yard punt return with 1:59 left, helping the Panthers win their third consecutive title.

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On Saturday, Washington was once again unstoppable. He took the ball from Grooms, made one quick cut up the field and dashed into the end zone for a 10-yard touchdown.

It was just one of many impressive plays Washington made during Saturday’s scrimmage at Faurot Field. Earlier in the game, he bullied his way for a 4-yard touchdown through the middle of the defense, and he turned several screen passes into large gains that earned first downs.

It is likely that Washington, a true freshman, will be redshirted this season. But after having a stellar fall camp and leading all running backs with eight rushes for 50 yards and two touchdowns on Saturday, he’s making it a tough decision for the Missouri coaching staff.

“Obviously, we have to make a decision what we’re going to do in terms of using him (this year) or not,” coach Gary Pinkel said. “I think a lot of players are (a tough decision), but ultimately, I have to make the decision. We as a staff have got to make the right decision that’s No. 1 for our football team.”

Washington’s talent is undeniable. He was rated by rivals.com as the No. 5 overall prospect in Missouri and the No. 20 running back prospect in the nation. He rushed for 5,500 yards and scored 83 touchdowns in high school and was twice named Kansas City offensive player of the year.

But now he’s playing on a whole new team at a whole new level. When the latest depth chart was released on Tuesday, Washington was buried behind senior Tony Temple and juniors Earl Goldsmith and Jimmy Jackson. Senior running back Marcus Woods is injured with a high ankle sprain, but he will likely be listed ahead of Washington once he is healthy.

Still, there is a chance Washington might see the field this year. Having rushed for 1,063 yards last season, Temple is the Big 12’s top returning rusher. But after that, the production dramatically falls off. Jackson rushed for just 123 yards in 2006, while Goldsmith finished with 109 and Woods with 84.

If Pinkel thinks Washington can do better, he may have no choice but play him. And Washington would be just fine with that.

“I’ve thought about it a lot,” he said. “If I get redshirted, I know it’s for the best. But I want to play.”

Temple said he knows how Washington is feeling and has been giving him advice on how to stay focused. Three years ago, he too, was left in limbo by the coaches until they decided to remove his redshirt in the eighth game of the season against Nebraska.

“I told him to just continue getting better,” Temple said. “Focus on the weight room and do everything you can to try to get better.”

Pinkel hinted that his decision on Washington could come after the team’s final scrimmage on Thursday. Three years ago Pinkel decided to play another Ray-Pec standout freshman, tight end Chase Coffman, after that third scrimmage.

“We talk about it daily in our personnel meetings,” Pinkel said. “So there’s a lot of things we look at, and a lot of times that stuff doesn’t iron out until the end.”

Washington said he’s willing to do whatever he can to help his career at Missouri begin like his high school career ended. With a championship.

“Today definitely brought back some memories,” he said. “But right now, it’s just a learning process. I have to get in and learn the offense. And once that all comes together, I just have to prove myself and show them what I can do.”

News and Notes:

-Fourth-string quarterback J.P. Tillman did not play on Saturday after being involved in a car accident on Friday. He had a sore back, but Pinkel said he is expected to return to practice on today.

-Linebacker Michael Keck sustained a slight shoulder sprain and did not finish the scrimmage. He was taken in for X-Rays but Pinkel said he didn’t think the injury was serious.

-The offense scored 10 touchdowns and beat the defense 51-17. Quarterback Chase Daniel was 10-for-13 for 120 yards and tight end Chase Coffman led the team with seven catches for 63 yards and a touchdown.

-The Tigers received 128 points from the Associated Press, just behind Texas A&M’s 162 points. A&M is ranked 25th in the AP Top 25 preseason poll.


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