COLUMBIA, MO. • Kendial Lawrence ended the 2011 season right where he started, as the No. 1 running back for Missouri. In between, a lot of twists and turns made for a challenging ride.
He opened with a less-than-stellar 10-yard game against Ohio before suffering a broken leg in practice the next week. When he returned after missing three games, Henry Josey not only had become the team's best ball carrier but one of the nation's most explosive.
Lawrence re-emerged when Josey was injured and finished with a career-best 108 yards in the Independence Bowl. With Josey sidelined indefinitely, the 5-foot-9, 195-pounder has returned to the top of the depth chart, but he hasn't been worried so much about replacing his teammate's 1,168 yards.
"I've focused this spring on blocking and pass protection and helping the quarterbacks get better time to throw," he said. "I'm also slowing down and taking a closer look on my run reads and learning the blocking schemes, and it's been helping me a lot."
In the team's first two scrimmages, Lawrence ran for 120 yards on 20 carries. Last weekend, he displayed a burst of speed to the outside on a couple of long runs and will perform for Mizzou fans at 1 p.m. Saturday in the Black and Gold game at Faurot Field.
He is free of pain after suffering a cracked fibula in September 2011 and dealing with soreness until the break between the regular season and bowl game.
"He's really had a great spring," coach Gary Pinkel said. "He's excited about the opportunity. He had to go through all the injuries last year but stayed healthy all spring. That's a real positive for him from a confidence standpoint."
Lawrence took over for Josey against Texas and rushed for 106 yards against the Longhorns. He followed with 94 yards against Texas Tech, 63 against Kansas and 108 against North Carolina.
Competition at running back includes Jared McGriff-Culver, Greg White and Marcus Murphy. Meanwhile, Josey awaits surgery to repair his torn ACL.
"Henry did an awesome job, and it was so sad when he went down," Lawrence said. "But you can't dwell on that. You have to get in there and make up for what he's done and show you've got his back. I feel really prepared. I did a lot of extra things in the weight room to prepare myself for the spring and want to carry that over to the summer."
Gahn McGaffie will be forever known for returning the opening kickoff against Oklahoma for a touchdown in Mizzou's 2010 win. Now he's trying to become a factor on the receiving corps after contributing nine catches through three seasons. He had eight catches in the team's first scrimmage.
"That (return) will go down in history, but he's a really good player," Pinkel said. "He catches the ball consistently. He gets open and knows the offense. And he always has a remarkable attitude whether he catches six balls or none."
FINAL TEAM MEETING
The Tigers had their final meeting of the spring Thursday before practice and spent a little time on non-football items. First was the team's new uniforms.
"They were like little 5-year-olds when I went in," Pinkel said. "They were all fired up about the uniforms. They should be. They're awesome."
Pinkel also talked about goals for the remainder of the school year.
"We showed them a calendar for the next few weeks and things we have to do," he said. "Take care of academics and finish strong. That's a goal. We'll lift a couple of times in the next few weeks."
BAGGETT MOVES UP
Andrew Baggett jumped ahead of Trey Barrow on the depth chart at placekicker this week. Barrow started the spring as the incumbent after making seven of nine field goals as a junior. He remains the No. 1 punter.