Just on paper, Mississippi State's running game shapes up as one of the best in the SEC, maybe the country. Three players who rushed for more than 500 yards return, and all three bring their own style to the table.
Vick Ballard is the go-to guy with a nose for the end zone. He'll pound the middle of a defense but has enough speed to break a big run. LaDarius Perkins is kind of the opposite, a sub.-4.4 back who is surprisingly tough between the tackles. Then there's QB Chris Relf, a 240-pound wrecking ball.
In today's Journal, I took a look at Ballard and Perkins, both of whom feel they have made strides in the offseason and expect to be better this fall. In this entry, I want to focus on Perkins, with whom some of us reporters had a good, lengthy conversation with on Tuesday.
I made the observation that Perkins seems even faster this spring, and he agreed.
"Yeah, it's stuff like that, seeing the hole quicker and getting out in the open field," he said. "But more of coach (Matt) Balis, we worked a lot in the offseason, we had a speed school we had on Wednesday afternoons and Saturday mornings. We worked a lot with techniques and get-offs and stuff like that – it helps a lot, especially in the open field when you're setting up the defensive player and breaking them off and trying to run past them."
I'll be honest, when he first got on campus, I had Perkins pegged as a speed guy, but he's become more than that. He works on other things, too, saying that a big focus this spring has been his pass protection skills.
Perkins, who had 566 yards rushing and 247 receiving last season, has spent a lot of time in the return game and will again be a multiple threat – maybe more so than last year. He might not lead the team in any one category, but he should have a big cumulative impact.
Perkins is being prepped to take over the lead tailback role after this season. He really started breaking out late last season: In the Bulldogs' 31-23 win over Ole Miss, Perkins had 98 yards rushing, plus 140 yards and two touchdowns receiving. In the 52-14 Gator Bowl win over Michigan, he totaled 40 rushing yards and 79 receiving yards.
"That was a sign of his growing up as a player, and really kind of coming into his own as far as the game of the SEC," running backs coach Greg Knox said. "He really got adjusted there at the end. This spring is still a growing process for him and a learning experience, but the maturity level, I think I can see that coming around."