Gary Pinkel joked that everything keeps him up at night this time of year, but that might be particularly true of Missouri’s return game.
Pinkel didn’t have many sleepless nights during the last few seasons worrying about who’d return punts and kickoffs for the Tigers.
New Orleans Saints running back Marcus Murphy had the job locked down, setting program records with seven return touchdowns and 2,837 return yards during an All-American career.
“I was thinking about throughout the summer occasionally,” Pinkel said. “For four years, you had one of the best in the country, an All-American, there. If you go back and look at the yards he produced and all the games he had an impact in, all of the sudden that component’s gone.”
Nothing is set in stone, but junior cornerback John Gibson currently sits atop the Missouri depth chart at kick returner and junior cornerback Aarion Penton is listed first at punt returner.
“Filling those spots, we’ve got some really good athletes and some guys running, but you don’t just replace Marcus Murphy,” Pinkel said. “We’ll probably go into next week, go through the scrimmage … before we really start narrowing any names down. But we’ve got some good athletes. It’s just big shoes to fill.”
Sophomore safeties Anthony Sherrils and Thomas Wilson are listed second on the depth chart, but plenty of players are getting work in the return game at Tigers practice.
Steward continues to make progress
Missouri running back Morgan Steward took a few licks on the practice field Wednesday for the first time since suffering a severe hip injury Aug. 8, 2014.
Steward missed the 2014 season and had surgery last November to repair ligament and bone damage in his right hip. He remains a limited participant in practice.
“He’s doing better,” Pinkel said. “He’s looking better and better. He’s not there yet, but today without a red pullover on and he got thudded a little bit and hit around a little bit. That’s just confidence for him.”
Pinkel remains optimistic that Steward will be cleared for duty during the 2015 season.
“If you’d have ever told me two months ago that he’d be doing what he’s doing right now, I’d say it was impossible,” Pinkel said. “I think we’re all optimistic, but we’ve got to be cautious and be smart about what we do.”
Missouri redshirt freshman wide receiver Thomas Richard was added to the injury list Wednesday during the seventh practice of fall camp. He is considered “day-to-day” because of a hamstring strain.
Senior safety Ian Simon also remains limited because of a hamstring injury. He remained in a red jersey for the fifth straight practice.
Redshirt freshman offensive lineman Andy Bauer (hip) remains a limited participant as well.