Steward's injury represents big domino in Mizzou offense
Missouri running back Morgan Steward strained his right hip Aug. 8 during the first full-pads practice of fall camp.
The coaches dismissed the injury to Steward, the second-string running back by default, as minor after an MRI. But, as of Tuesday — some 18 days later — Steward still is on the sideline, doubtful for Saturday’s game against South Dakota State.
Then there’s this.
Pinkel sounds like Morgan Steward's hip injury could be more long-term than initially feared. Said medical staff will do more tests
— Dave Matter (@Dave_Matter) August 26, 2014
Pinkel, on Morgan Steward's hip injury: "We're looking into it further." Says Steward's injury status could dictate where Murphy plays.
— David Morrison (@DavidCMorrison) August 26, 2014
There are plenty of consequences if Steward isn’t healthy. More than is typical for a team in this position with its backup running back.
Maty Mauk probably has been the team’s most talked-about player this August, but Marcus Murphy could make a case.
Coach Gary Pinkel clearly has identified 5-foot-9, 195-pound marble of kinetic energy as one of the offense’s most dynamic options. Murphy averaged 6.5 yards per carry in 2013, has a history of success returning kicks and punts, and spent more than a portion of fall practice developing as a slot receiver.
But when the team released its South Dakota State depth chart Monday, Murphy’s name appeared alongside Russell Hansbrough as the co-starter at running back, didn’t show up at receiver and landed underneath Ian Simon to the right of the bolded heading “KR.”
“When Morgan’s healthy, it changes everything,” Pinkel said, according to Rivals.com.
That’s because without Steward, Hansbrough’s backups include a former walk-on who accepted a scholarship last week and a true freshman. Aside from the fact that any semi-athletic body probably could approach four yards per carry most games behind this Missouri offensive line, Steward’s health to a large extent will dictate Murphy’s role.
The team wants Murphy to play two out of every three snaps, Pinkel said Monday, adding that the staff still is working out its backfield rotation plans.
“There’s certainly some things we’re looking at and analyzing and (Murphy’s role) probably is going to be a week-to-week thing,” Pinkel said. “A lot of it will probably depend on the health we have at the tailback position.”
Murphy still should line up in the slot at some point this season, though it’s difficult to predict whether Missouri will trot out the “Murphy as receiver” look Saturday or avoid putting it on video for more formidable opponents.
The more influential priority seems to be preserving Murphy’s health, because without Steward and Murphy, Hansbrough would have to shoulder a heavy workload atypical of Missouri’s backfield-by-committee approach. Missouri will pick and choose, and Pinkel apparently feels better about the team’s kick return depth than the depth at running back.
“(Kick returns were) something I really enjoyed doing, but it’s a week-to-week decision,” Murphy said. “… I’m going to go with it, but I still would like to be back there at kick return.”
Said Pinkel: “We have, I think, a lot of good return guys. Aarion Penton also is a very good athlete, and some other guys. We probably have more than we’ve ever had in the program, ever. When I first got here, we had maybe two guys who had a chance to catch a punt. That was a long time ago.”