COLUMBIA — While there are some unknowns about Missouri's passing game entering the 2019 season, there should be no doubt about the effectiveness of the rushing attack.
Thanks to the 1-2 punch of junior Larry Rountree III and sophomore Tyler Badie, no Southeastern Conference team returns more from its top two rushers than the Tigers. Rountree is the conference's second-leading rusher after a 1,216-yard sophomore season, trailing only Vanderbilt running back Ke'Shawn Vaughn's 1,244 yards.
He wants more this time around.
"I wouldn't say I had a great season. I had a good season," Rountree said on the opening day of training camp. "Those great seasons, I feel like are 2,000 yards, 1,500 yards.
"Honestly, we should have no margin for error. We have a lot of weapons coming in on offense, and I feel like we can do a lot with this offense that we have."
Paired with Badie, Missouri brings back 1,653 yards and 13 touchdowns from last season, just ahead of the Vaughn and Jamauri Wakefield's 1,597, and well above the SEC average of 1,060. The combined touchdowns are tied for third with Georgia, behind Mississippi (16) and Vanderbilt (14).
"They complement each other really well, because they're two different backs," quarterback Kelly Bryant said Wednesday. "Larry's a bigger back, Badie's more like a scatback, you can line him up at receiver as well, he could be a mismatch for a heavy-set linebacker."
An offense that used bruising runs from Rountree and Dawson Downing, and shifty runs from Badie and Simi Bakare, plus carries from current NFL talent Damarea Crockett and Drew Lock, to average 4.76 yards per carry and 202 yards per game.
"My role hasn't really changed," Badie said Wednesday. "Obviously, I moved up in the depth chart, but I feel like I play the same."
The Tigers also return three starting offensive linemen, including one of the SEC's best guards in Tre'Vour Wallace-Simms and one of the conference's best tackles in Yasir Durant. Both were elite in pass blocking during the 2018 season, and along with center Trystan Colon-Castillo, will pave the way in the run game as well.
That line has been a big part of Missouri's run success the last few seasons, and having returning starters with multiple years of experience is key. According to Bill Connelly's stats, the Tigers' run game was stuffed (no gain or lost yards) on 13.3 percent of rushes in 2017, fifth-best in the nation, and on 13.8 percent of rushes last season, sixth-best.
The offensive line plays a huge role in making sure tackles for loss aren't surrendered, as well as the push up front to get those first few yards, and Missouri's has been excellent at that for two consecutive years.
There's also the potential for what adding a dual-threat quarterback like Bryant can do to impact the run game. He ran for 156 yards on 23 attempts as a true freshman at Clemson, and 665 yards on 192 attempts in 2017. Derek Dooley's offense had plenty of run-pass option plays and a few quarterback runs built in for Lock.
Bryant has said one of the things that drew him to Missouri was the staff had an offensive game plan ready for him when he came for his visit during the weekend of the Kentucky game last fall and sold him on the play book intended to maximize his potential. Nearly a year later, all that's left is to put that plan into action.
Former Missouri wide receiver Emanuel Hall, who was released Tuesday by the Chicago Bears, was picked up off waivers and signed by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Wednesday. The Bucs waived rookie safety Micah Abernathy to make room for Hall on the 90-man preseason roster, and will be responsible for Hall's $30,000 in base salary he was guaranteed in his contract with the Bears, according to the Chicago Tribune's Brad Biggs.
Despite his speed and big play rate at Missouri, injury concerns kept Hall off draft boards, and he missed practices and last Thursday's preseason game against Carolina. He ran a 4.39-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine and signed with the Bears as an undrafted free agent following the 2019 NFL Draft, which was held in Nashville, Tenn., close to his hometown of Franklin, Tenn.
Hall confirmed the move by tweeting "Go Bucs" with a thumbs-up emoji Wednesday afternoon. He will be reunited with two former Tigers in quarterback Blaine Gabbert and defensive tackle Terry Beckner Jr., and play with former Florida State star QB Jameis Winston under head coach Dirk Koetter and offensive coordinator/wide receivers coach Todd Monken.