Spring look ahead: Running Backs

Lacking among the Ole Miss backs last season was a big guy, someone who by sheer force could get forward yardage in the most naked of situations.

That won’t be different this spring. It may not be in the fall, but there will be at least one signee who fits that bill in freshman Jordan Wilkins (6-1, 210).

Wilkins won’t arrive till August. Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze will get a look at one of his freshman, Mark Dodson (5-10, 193), ranked the No. 5 all-purpose back and No. 149 overall prospect by Rivals.com.

Maybe one of those purposes is running hard at the middle.

Justin Bigham (6-1, 232) has the size. He is listed as a running back but is a guy Freeze mentioned as getting some snaps at tight end.

I thought Nick Parker or Devin Thomas might be candidates for that role last year, but neither materialized there. Parker is back, Thomas was a senior last year.

In fact in August camp last year Freeze seemed comfortable with the idea of freshman I’tavius Mathers running in short-yardage situations. That didn’t carry over much into the season. Mathers and freshman Jaylen Walton got some opportunities early, fewer in conference play.

Both played well in the bowl game after Jeff Scott got banged up. Freeze turned to Walton before Mathers, and Walton showed some nice inside running with an ability to withstand contact. Mathers broke off a long touchdown run later in the game.

Scott, last year’s starter, is back after his best season, with 846 yards and six touchdowns last year. He averaged 4.3 yards a carry.

When Scott was slumping the Rebels got a lift from Randall Mackey, who was a tougher inside runner. They’ll have to replace that this year.

Mathers or Walton could be a candidate to do just that, but the fact that Dodson is on campus and will go through spring is a big deal.

There’s talent and depth among the running backs, and more speed is on the way with freshman signee Kailo Moore.

You can never have enough speed, and Freeze will be creative enough to find ways to use guys he trusts.

Speaking of trustworthy speed, Carlos Davis (5-9, 163) will be an interesting case study. Davis proved he could be a sure tackler on special teams after racing down the field. Can he carry the ball too?

Lots of parts and pieces to work with. Wilkins will be the biggest when he arrives, but other factors go into successful inside running. Maybe that candidate will emerge in the spring.

Denham Springs, La., native, Mississippian since 1989 with a stop in Meridian before arriving in Tupelo. Daily Journal beat writer since 1996, covering Ole Miss since 2002. Proud Northeast Louisiana alum. Follow me on Twitter @parrishalford and listen to John Davis and myself daily with The Ole Miss Beat on Rebel Sports Radio.

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