Missouri junior running back Morgan Steward started trading hits with teammates again Tuesday at practice.
The first play he got to pop pads again, Steward, who missed last season and wound up having surgery in November to reconstruct his right hip, met freshman defensive end Nate Howard as a pass-blocker.
“He’s a pretty big dude …,” Steward said. “He came off the edge and I had to go and meet him right there. That honestly was fun. I haven’t done that in such a long time. … I didn’t slow down or nothing.”
Steward didn’t exactly pancake Howard, “but I knocked him back a little bit,” he said. “So, that was fun.”
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But it paled in comparison to Saturday when Steward was a full participant during the Tigers’ first scrimmage of preseason camp. He finished with nine carries for 17 yards and also caught three passes 14 yards.
“I had a little bit of jitters about everything that was going on,” Steward said. “I haven’t done this in a while. I wanted to do good and have the best scrimmage I can, but honestly there’s been a real peace that’s come through this thing. I just pray and just go out and do my best.”
Steward, who learned Thursday from trainer Rex Sharp that he’d been cleared for the scrimmage, raced around the left end for an 8-yard gain on his carry before he was tackled for the first time in more than year.
“This was the first time I did live (tackling),” Steward said. “I’ve got to pop the pads and make contact, but that was great to actually get on the ground with some guys. … It was a good cut up field, I wrapped around the corner and got to open up my legs a bit and lower my pads at the end.”
Steward plowed into a pile a few plays later and got bent around, reaching another important milestone in his recovery.
“There was one where I got … a little bit twisted and I didn’t know how I was going to feel once I got up,” Steward said. “But I got up and I walked off and I was perfectly fine.”
Steward has had more productive performances in the past and probably will in the future, but none as rewarding as completing a yearlong journey back to the field.
“It was awesome,” associate head coach/quarterbacks coach Andy Hill said. “He’s a freakin’ awesome kid. He’s worked very hard to get back to this point, so it was great to see him out there and get some reps in and have the ball and get tackled and jump right up and be Morgan Steward again.”
▪ Four of MU’s six false-start penalties were against the first- or second-team offense.
“That’s lack of focus,” offensive-line coach A.J. Ricker said. “That’s all on me, and I’ll get it corrected. But that was the biggest thing. We did a lot of good things and there were some things we could correct, but the real glaring thing walking out of this scrimmage was just fixing the false starts. That’s just us beating ourselves.”
Senior center Evan Boehm opted not to lay the blame at his coach’s feet.
“It’s just people thinking too much and not focusing on what they need to be focusing on,” he said. “They’re just second-guessing themselves. That’s really what happens when you have false starts. … We’re going to go out there and we’re going to fix it, for sure. I’m going to put it on myself to make sure we fix it before SEMO.”
Missouri opens the season Sept. 5 against Southeast Missouri at Memorial Stadium.
▪ Freshman Emanuel Hall led the wide receivers with six catches for 63 yards.
“He’s got that burst coming out that he’s going to beat you and make you miss …,” junior quarterback Maty Mauk said. “You get down in the red zone, he knows how to go up and get a ball and control his body.”
Sophomore J’Mon Moore finished with five catches for 105 yards, including the longest play of the day — a 65-yard reception from sophomore quarterback Eddie Printz that set up a field goal.
▪ Freshman Johnathon Johnson, who sparkled with four catches for 90 yards, beat sophomore linebacker Eric Beisel on a deep post from Marvin Zanders for a 64-yard gain. Johnson made a couple nice cuts and headed to the left corner of the end zone.
Senior DeAndre McKenzie brought him down with an ankle tackle. It also left Johnson with an ankle injury, the severity of which wasn’t known immediately after the scrimmage.
▪ Redshirt freshman safety Tavon Ross, who missed the spring with a torn ACL, started the scrimmage with the second team, but he left with a shoulder injury.
Coach Gary Pinkel said Ross had X-rays, but he didn’t have results yet.
▪ Senior kicker Andrew Baggett (back spasms) sat out the scrimmage. He was the only new addition to the injury report before the scrimmage, but safety Ian Simon (hamstring), guard Andy Bauer (hip) and wide receivers Thomas Richard (hamstring) and Richaud Floyd (ribs) also sat out.