How recruiting can help Missouri improve at running back

New Missouri coach Barry Odom is set on the side of the ball where he gained his coaching expertise -- Odom is the Tigers’ former defensive coordinator -- but that is not the main area of need for the Tigers in their 2016 recruiting class.

Odom and new offensive coordinator Josh Heupel must breathe some life into a stagnant offense, starting with an unproductive running game. The good news for the Tigers is that they appear to have already filled that need in this class.

Biggest need: Missouri had the worst rushing offense in the SEC in 2015 (115.4 yards per game, 119th in the FBS) and was awful on offense in general. It hurt that senior Russell Hansbrough, a 1,000-yard rusher in 2014, was injured for much of the season, but the Tigers struggled to produce much on the ground even when he was in the lineup.

Now Hansbrough has completed his college career and the Tigers are left with players who attempted to fill his shoes with limited success in 2015. Ish Witter (126 carries, 518 rushing yards, TD) was the leading rusher ahead of Hansbrough (111-436, TD) and another senior, Tyler Hunt (42-185, TD). Behind them were players who received few opportunities to make an impact, Chase Abbington (6-39) and Morgan Steward (10-18).

The competition between quarterbacks Drew Lock and Maty Mauk apparently will resume after Lock essentially had the job to himself for the second half of last season. No matter who wins the job, he will need a more consistent running game to remove some of the pressure as the passing attack continues to develop. If Witter or one of the returning backs is capable of providing that jolt, great. But it appears from the outside that the Tigers could use another explosive presence in the backfield. -- David Ching

Recruiting scoop: The Tigers' run game struggled mightily last season and with Hansbrough graduating there was a definite need at running back in recruiting. Missouri dipped into the junior college ranks to land a commitment from one of the best running backs in the country. Natereace Strong is the second-ranked running back in the ESPN JC 50 and at 6-foot, 210 pounds the four-star prospect has the experience and size to play early next season.

Strong committed to Missouri while Gary Pinkel was the coach and Odom made the four-star running back a priority when he took over. With Lock being only a sophomore, it will be important for Missouri to have a strong rushing attack, and the Tigers are hoping Strong can be their workhorse of the future. -- Derek Tyson