STARKVILLE – Robert Elliott insists he’s right where he planned to be, but he probably didn’t foresee the path that took him there.
In a matter of months, the running back went from being the lone star on his Okolona High
School team – he rushed for more than 5,000 yards in his career – to a maddeningly inconsistent freshman who often drew the ire of Mississippi State’s coaches.
When he finally got on the field, as a redshirt freshman, he suffered a season-ending knee injury in the fifth game of 2008. Then he had to learn new coach Dan Mullen’s spread offense while nursing that injury, which limited him severely during 2009 spring drills.
Last season, Elliott was one of several backups to Anthony Dixon, and so his carries were limited – 44 for 221 yards.
Now, he’s part of a group of backs vying for carries as Dixon moves on to the NFL. It’ll probably be a by-committee approach this fall, but Elliott feels ready to take the lead role.
“Just watching him, his leadership, his attitude on the field, off the field, in the meeting rooms, I think he realizes that, ‘This is my opportunity now. If it’s going to happen for me, it needs to happen now,’” second-year running backs coach Greg Knox said.
For Elliott, everything is finally coming together. His knee is fine, he’s put on weight (from 200 as a freshman to about 220 now), and he knows the offense inside and out.
“I’ve really seen a big change in Rob,” senior center J.C. Brignone said. “Just seeing how he runs, being able to see the holes, he’s starting to, I wouldn’t say run like Dixon, because he’s a different runner, but he sees the holes like AD did.”
That, Knox said, is a direct result of Elliott having a more thorough understanding of the offense. Knox said last season, Elliott would stare at the sidelines for up to 20 seconds trying will pick up even more this fall,”
Knox said. “I think he’ll be a lot faster player for us. Not because of the fact that he’s gotten faster during the summer workouts, but because of the mental part of it.”
So how will Elliott separate himself from his fellow backs?
Well, for one, he actually has SEC game experience.
Vick Ballard is a junior college transfer, while Montrell Conner and LaDarius Perkins are redshirt freshmen.
Plus, Elliott has developed as an all-around running back. He can pass block, he’s more of a running threat between the tackles, and he could contribute in the passing game for a team woefully short of receivers.
Elliott said the coaches have different sets for each running back, but if he can excel in multiple areas, that’ll keep him on the field longer.
“I’ve been working on a lot of pass protection, picking up blitzes, running in between (the tackles) – just basically trying to make myself a solid running back and be able to do everything instead of one dimension.”
When he first got on the field, Elliott was most effective running to the edge. In the spring, he showed an ability to navigate the inside running lanes, his shifty hips helping him get extra yards.
“I think he’s become a very confident player in his ability, and I think he’ll become a very confident player in his running style,” Knox said. “He’ll be a lot more physical runner.”
Elliott’s arrival to this point can be traced to his work ethic, which has been praised by coaches and teammates alike.
“He’s a hard worker – weight-room, classroom, on the field,” receiver Leon Berry said.
And finally, Elliott hopes, that hard work will start paying off.
Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571 or email@example.com.
MSU tailback Robert Elliott, a junior, has had spotty production his first two years:
– 2008: 4 games, 18 carries, 61 yards, 1 TD
– 2009: 12 games, 44 carries, 221 yards, 1 TD
– Totals: 16 games, 62 carries, 282 yards, 2 TDs
Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal