Elliott Welcomes Expanded Tailback Rotations

One might think a rotation runner would be the last Dog wanting others crashing his position party. Not Robert Elliott. "Having three running backs in the SEC is good," he says, then adds "We really need about five, or six."

Whoa, there…Mississippi State needs more tailbacks? And Robert Elliott, who as of today stands third in the varsity running order, is encouraging additions? You bet, the senior says. He welcomes every new ball-hauler available to the 2011 backfield bunch.

"We all feel good about that," he explains. "Because we take a pounding each game. Just by what carries I got, I felt like I was in a car wreck each game! So we need everybody that we can get."

Well said. And, well-evaluated. Even as Mississippi State prepares for the upcoming season with some proven SEC runners the offensive staff has invested valuable practice time into developing depth. Or just plain seeking it, as Coach Dan Mullen has said in recent days. In fact during Tuesday's post-practice review the head coach was willing to credit the camp work of Vick Ballard and LaDarius Perkins, saying number three tailback was a question mark.

Elliott figures he can answer that one. For one thing he is in the best physical shape of his college career, including those distant pre-2008 injury days. "I'm 210 pounds," he says. "This spring I was at 215 so I've lost five pounds, I feel like I'm quicker and more leaned-out." True, but trimming down is not the same as slimming everything down. In fact Elliott now has an impressive shoulder span signaling just how much strength he's picked up while unnecessary bulk fell off.

"Coach Balis is going to work you hard!" he proudly proclaims.

So are the on-field coaches these August days. It was one thing changing the entire offensive approach when Mullen arrived, from pro-style to spread schemes. That has been a success already. What Elliott notices now though is how here in year-three everyone has been pushed into a higher practice gear. Much higher.

"We're trying to be a fast-paced offense, so that's what we're doing." An offense that doesn't allow defenses enough time to adjust much between plays, even grab a breath for that matter. So camp snaps have been snapping off like firecrackers here during installation and evaluation days. It should scale back a bit following Friday's game-type scrimmage when the Bulldogs transition to true preparation work.

But for a few more days the tailbacks are shuttling in and out and taking turns. Hits, too, Elliott says, because this coaching staff wants practices to mimic the intensity of real SEC action.

"Yeah, I'm excited about that. Even though it feels like a car wreck! I mean that's why we're out here, we love the game so that's what we do."

Elliott served well last fall in a three-tailback rotation State used for the first two months. The emergence of Ballard as a scoring machine, breaking the season touchdown record in his first senior college season; and development of redshirt Perkins in a runner/receiver role cut into Elliott's carries towards the end. Of course quarterback Chris Relf took more than the usual tithe of totes as well. So Elliott finished the junior campaign with 221 yards on sixty rushes. And of course, everyone is back for more this year.

But instead of settling for reserve duty Elliott has put in every bit of effort as any first-teamer. It's not just because he wants every rush available…he is still just as competitive as the day he arrived on campus.

"I just come out every day and work hard, try to get better at everything I do," Elliott says. "I don't feel pressure about being in the rotation. I do feel pressure about the younger guys and helping them learn what to do."

Yes, here in the senior season Elliott is taking it upon himself to teach newer, younger backs what it takes to first survive and then hopefully thrive at this level. He wants rookie runners Josh Robison and Derrick Milton to feel they're free to come with any college-ball questions. After all, he can still recall what it was like to be the new hot-shot kid on campus, confronted by the reality of learning how to run-block, to pass-protect, to take proper steps in the backfield instead of relying on raw ability. All the things that can literally put a rookie off his stride.

"Because this will be my last year playing, so I want to help as many guys as I can before I leave," Elliott adds. Not just his fellow tailbacks, either; Elliott has lent a hand in helping the young quarterbacks develop their stills as well. And talk about an odd coupling…in scrimmaging action redshirt frosh Dylan Favre's tendency to scramble and create often directs his gaze, and the ball, towards the ‘hot' tailback target.

"Me and Dylan have that connection, we're always playing around in the locker room. Really, Dylan has that connection with everybody on the team. He'll throw it anywhere across the field. I'm used to that. Tyler (Russell) and Dylan both are great quarterbacks, both are working hard and compete well against each other."

Again, don't get any idea Elliott is conceding status to either his varsity peers or the new pups in the pack. He has every opportunity to contribute in 2011, too. In fact Elliott expects an expanded year-three offense to offer even more plays for the making.

"I feel good about the passing game. Chris, Tyler, Dylan, Dak (Prescott) are all throwing the ball well, the offensive line is blocking great up front. And we as running backs have learned our protections and picking guys up, so I feel real good about it."

Just as he feels optimistic about the opportunities this senior season presents, with Elliott working for his most productive positioning in the rotation of three tailbacks. Or four, or five, or six…

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