Either it was the plan all along, Marcus Murphy has proven something to the coaching staff this week while working with the receivers, or both.

Whatever the case, it sounds more and more like the running back and return specialist will make his most important contribution in 2014 as a receiver.

While Pinkel said it’s “much too early” to tell whether Murphy will find a permanent home at slot receiver this season, he called Murphy a natural at the new position. More telling, asked about running back depth on Thursday, Pinkel mentioned Russell Hansbrough and then Morgan Steward.

“Sometimes you get running backs out there, 25, 30 yards from the line of scrimmage, and their adjustment to the ball is different, because that’s just not what they do,” Pinkel said, according to the Columbia Tribune. “He’s just got real good hands. That’s been really good.”

The coach also mentioned the progress of his young tight ends as encouraging as the team looks to diversify its pass targets with a downgrade in talent among the team’s top three receivers.

Steward, listed at 6-foot, 210 pounds, played mostly special teams last season as a redshirt freshman out of Staley High School in Kansas City. His six carries for 32 yards against Tennessee last fall represented the longest look we got at him as a running back.

Last season the team split carries three ways, but that’s a bit misleading. This will be a backfield-by-committee, but expect Hansbrough to be the trusted lead back. Hansbrough and Henry Josey each served as the lead guy at a different juncture of the season. For now, it appears that Steward is in line for the second-most carries, and that a third position is up for grabs.

It seems like true freshmen Trevon Walters and Ish Witter will compete to claim the pseudo third-string running back position (Murphy still is listed as the backup running back, at least for now, and probably will get a limited number of carries even if he plays mostly at receiver). Walk-on Tyler Hunt is the other option.

“The urgency (to get them) ready to play is for certain,” Pinkel said, according to the Tribune. “Certainly, we need to get one of them ready to play, then, we might need two of them.”

Walters and Witter both were 195 pounds out of high school, one of the reasons Missouri felt even in February like they may contribute early in their careers.

Whether or not Maty Mauk lives up to ever-growing expectations with a depleted stable of pass-catchers, the running backs need to provide some oomph to the offense for Missouri to even approach the 39.1 points per game it notched last season.

One benefit to Missouri’s schedule is that the team will have some time to experiment early in the season. UCF could be a tricky non-conference opponent, but the Tigers will be favored against South Dakota State, Toledo and Indiana as well as last season’s Fiesta Bowl winners. If Pinkel needs to shift a few players in terms of positions or redistribute catches and carries, he has a few games to tinker before the meat of the SEC schedule.