By John Shinn
When a player changes position late in his career, it’s often an act of desperation. For whatever reason, the initial evaluation didn’t plan out or the talent simply wasn’t there.
That’s not the reason Oklahoma’s Mossis Madu was moved from running back to receiver.
“We want to get the ball in his hands,” OU offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said.
For the last two seasons, Madu has been a very talented player playing behind two very talented players. Chris Brown and DeMarco Murray have comprised one of the best running back tandems in the program’s rich history. Both rushed for over 1,000 yards last season and could do it again if they remain healthy this season.
But Madu showed he was on their level. After Murray went down with a hamstring injury in last year’s Big 12 championship game, Madu ripped off a career high 114 yards and three touchdowns. There’s no doubt he can do great things with the ball.
It was the reason Madu spent the spring working at wide receiver. He’s proven he’s a quality running back. It was his chance to prove he can also be a versatile player.
The fact Madu wasn’t cut from a classic mold helped draw the Sooner coaching staffs’ attention when he was at Norman High. The coaches also saw his potential as a receiver. There was some experimentation with it last season.
But a full-time switch wasn’t mentioned until last spring. There’s no doubt OU’s having to replace three wide receivers from last year’s team opened some opportunities.
“It’s another way for me to get on the field,” Madu said. “When you have guys like Chris and DeMarco in front of you, it’s going to be hard to get all three equal reps. I’m just happy they’re trying to get me on the field.”
OU wants him on the field for several reasons. One of the biggest is the versatility he can bring. Defenses set their personnel based on what the offense has on the field. More running backs typically means more linebackers. More receivers typically causes more defensive backs to trot on the field.
Offensive and defensive coordinators play that chess match every Saturday. Part of the reason OU’s no-huddle offense was so successful last season was it’s ability to trap defenses with unfavorable personnel matchups.
Madu’s versatility can exploit those mismatches further. OU quarterback Sam Bradford said Wilson has already been toying with new formations because of what Madu can do in early practices.
“I think everyone saw the type of football player he is towards the end of the year last year, especially in the Big 12 championship game, and I think we realize the more the ball is in his hands, the better it is for our offense,” Bradford said. “I think this summer, working in the slot, he made some very good plays for us, and I think he’s going to continue to improve for us. I think he’s got a chance to be a great receiver this year.”
Madu admits it hasn’t been easy. The spring was tough and the summer’s 7-on-7 drills weren’t a walk in the park either.
“I’m still trying to learn the whole thing,” he said. “There were some rough times. At times, I felt like my head was spinning. But I’ll get the hang of it.”
Luckily he’s been able to lean on former NHS teammate Ryan Broyles. Madu has moved to the spot Broyles had the most productive freshman season an OU receiver has ever experienced.
“There’s just a bit of learning curve he has to make,” Broyles said about Madu. “He’s got the two most important things: He’s a great athlete and he’s smart. He’ll pick it up.”