Spring Look Ahead: Running Backs

Looking ahead to bowl practice and the spring.

Third in a series …

Running Backs

I went into the season thinking the running back by committee thing would work. Looking at the combined production of Jaylen Walton and I’Tavius Mathers last year, behind the same type of offensive line, it looked like the Rebels would be pretty strong in the backfield.

That assumed Walton and Mathers would have equal their 2013 production. Walton did, Mathers did not.

It also assumed a big step up for one of the younger backs, either Mark Dodson or Jordan Wilkins.

As the season played out it looked like Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze was more comfortable in trying different things with Wilkins than Dodson.

Wilkins got to the corner a couple of times, once against Tennessee and again against Mississippi State.

Wilkins’ success in getting outside helped set up his touchdown pass against MSU, a huge play in the game.

Equally big was Walton’s 91-yard run. Walton ran right, saw six or seven MSU defenders go with him, then cut back left. He didn’t get the corner, but he ran through traffic. Several MSU players had the chance to make the stop before he Walton got to the second level, but they didn’t. Then Walton got a key block to spring him free and another key block downfield. It was a great run.

Walton is shifty and elusive but isn’t a burner. He doesn’t have the size and strength to produce chain-moving runs throughout the game.

So much of a great running game depends on a great offensive line, and Ole Miss doesn’t have that right now.

So the Rebels need running backs who are better than average, guys who can do more with less.

Ole Miss under Freeze has never had the big power back and doesn’t right now. Akeem Judd becomes part of the mix next year and is right now listed at 6-0, 220. That’s 11 pounds heavier than Wilkins.

That strength can help you run through initial contact which is something the Rebels need.

Great running backs, though, have vision and then the ability to cut back and hit the hole hard when they see it. That’s what Dexter McCluster had. He didn’t run over anybody.

If verbal commit Eric Swinney (5-10, 185) can bring that to the table he’ll have the chance to play next year.

A position that really looked deep last August looks like it needs some help now. Perhaps that help comes with the new players coming in along the offensive line.

The running backs can’t rely on that and have to get used to the “more with less” idea. They need to be better one their own.

Rivals rates Swinney a four-star prospect and calls the Tyrone, Ga., native the No. 10 running back in the country.

Mathers is next year’s question mark. He’s on pace to finish about 275 yards behind his 2013 rushing numbers while playing the same amount of games.

With a strong off-season Wilkins could play a larger role in 2015.

If Swinney and Judd bring that “something different” to the group they’ll get the chance to shake things up next year.

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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