If you expected erstwhile running back Marcus Murphy to return to the backfield for Tuesday’s scrimmage with Morgan Steward (hip) unlikely to participate, you were mistaken.

With Murphy’s tentative move to slot receiver, Steward is slotted as the backup running back. Murphy likely will carry the ball at some point this season, even if he plays more frequently as a receiver. But it makes logical sense to get him reps at receiver to translate what he’s learned to more of a game speed.

The more significant silver lining to Steward’s hip sidelining him is the chance to evaluate and develop depth at running back.

Russell Hansbrough is the clear No. 1 back. Missouri won’t split carries as generously as the Tigers did last season, when four players rushed at least 92 times. It wouldn’t be a surprise if quarterback Maty Mauk finished second on the team in rushing.

But a number of different players will carry the ball for the Tigers. Walk-on Tyler Hunt is an option, and coach Gary Pinkel specifically mentioned that true freshmen Trevon Walters and Ish Witter need to be ready to play, as he expects at least one of them to see significant time in 2014.

Hansbrough is a known quantity. Beyond that, Steward rushed just six times as a freshman in 2013 and entered the fall as the third-string running back on the depth chart.

Steward will get carries if he’s healthy, but the question is how many. Can one player emerge from the grouping of Hunt, Walters and Witter? If one of them flashes in the scrimmage, might the coaching staff take a closer look the rest of the preseason at redistributing some of Steward’s carries to them and repositioning the pecking order?

It doesn’t sound like Steward will be out for long, but less than three weeks before the season begins, missing a string of practices and scrimmages as a relatively unproven sophomore backup isn’t the best way to shore up your spot.

Now it’s up to one of the other backs to take advantage of the opportunities in practice and especially in Tuesday’s scrimmage.