Missouri’s Morgan Steward remains a limited participant in practice, but he’s inching closer to a full return.
Steward, a junior running back and Staley graduate who missed last season with a hip injury, hasn’t played in a year after a freak injury in fall camp last summer.
Coach Gary Pinkel and his staff initially hoped Steward, who was a breakout star in 2014 spring practices, could return after some rehab, but the hip didn’t respond to treatment and surgery was required in November.
“There’s not really a specific name (for my hip injury), there was kind of a unique injury of its own,” Steward said. “Really, my hip joint popped out of place, I tore things around it and some of the bone. There were quite a few things in there, but I’m just so grateful. The Lord’s brought me a long way, so I’m glad to be back.”
Steward said he suffered a torn labrum and had a sliver come off the bone when his foot got caught in the ground as he was twisted around going to the ground.
The Tigers are optimistic Steward can be a factor in the backfield this season.
“He’s moving pretty good out there, but time is going to tell,” Pinkel said.
Running backs coach Brian Jones characterized Steward’s recovery as an incremental process, but Missouri’s staff believes he’ll be ready for the season.
“We’re expecting it, but it’s a day-to-day thing with him,” Jones said. “We have to see how it holds up. … Morgan’s doing very well, working very hard and so on. … We’re just going to make an evaluation every single day as to how he’s progressing, but he gets better every day. We’ve just got to see how healthy he is through camp.”
The true test is getting hit again, seeing how the hip rebounds from a direct blow.
“It’s very comparable to Henry Josey,” Jones said. “I remember when he first came back, I was nervous and he was nervous. … First day was good. We’ll see how he is today and see how he is tomorrow.”
It’s the end of a long road, but Steward believes he’s approaching the end of his rehabilitation journey.
“I’m really close, and I’m excited …,” he said. “It was a really long progression, but I’m glad to be back out here and almost there. … I’m getting close to 100 percent.”
Steward thanked Missouri’s training staff, especially head athletic trainer Rex Sharp.
“I believed the whole way,” Steward said. “That’s been my prayer — to be back for the season. About three weeks or a month ago, I was like, ‘This is really going to happen. I’m going to get back on the field and go make it happen again.’”
Junior defensive tackle Harold Brantley’s car accident and the injuries he suffered that will sideline him for the season undoubtedly represent a massive blow to Missouri’s defensive line. He was the leader, best returning playmaker and a most experienced player up front.
But losing Brantley is a contingency first-year defensive coordinator Barry Odom apparently had considered.
“You never think, if you look at the depth, ‘Yeah, this is set; let’s roll,’” Odom said. “You always play the what-if game a little bit. What if in practice two somebody turned his ankle and he’s out for a little bit, how are we going to plug guys in?”
It’s not ideal, but Odom is daunted by Brantley’s status.
“The roster is what it is, and it’s our job to get those guys ready to play,” he said.
In fact, it’s a challenge Odom relishes each week and each year.
“I absolutely love building a defensive team,” Odom said. “I mean, it’s awesome. Whatever the pieces are, that’s our job to find a spot and put those guys in position. Monday is our big game-plan week during the season, and I absolutely love waking up and putting that plan in place.”
Banking on Beckner?
Freshman defensive tackle Terry Beckner Jr., an East St. Louis graduate and one of the top prospects nationally in the 2015 recruiting class, might help ease Brantley’s loss.
But if Odom is pumped about Beckner’s first few days, he’s playing coy.
“He’s a young guys that’s learning how to stretch and how to get taped in the morning and how to do weigh-in, where the dining hall is just like every other freshman,” Odom said. “The urgency we have as coaches to get guys ready to play is as high as it is every other year. We’ve got to sort those things out and coach them like those are the guys that are going to be playing on Saturday. On down the line, we’ll make a decision if they’re ready or not.”