Holloway Running On A Faster Spring Track

It probably was not the sort of matchup Brandon Holloway envisioned when introduced to pass-protection drills. Give the kid credit though, he didn't curl up and cower when 340 (or so) pound Nick James thundered his way. "You've got to do what you can!"

In the165-pound Holloway's case it meant obstructing, best he could, the defensive tackle's path to the passer. Did it work? Wellllll, James didn't get arms-length of the quarterback, so it had to be graded a success in that regard. And sideline observers were certainly amused.

The real point to that practice play though was just how much Holloway's role is expanding in 2013. Wide receivers, after all, don't block defensive tackles in the backfield.

Running backs do.

And here Holloway is taking spring practice snaps as a running back. Not just a H-back or flanker-eligible or special sets, but a true dot-the-I tailback. If the redshirt freshman appears at home there, well, he is. Back home he means.

"I like it a lot. It's the same thing I did in high school and I'm really comfortable with it. Running back is a comfortable position for me, wide receiver is a new position for me."

Fans familiar with Holloway's recruitment remember. Though listed as a receiver when inked by Mississippi State in February 2012, the Tampa native made his prep name primarily rushing for Alonso High. As a senior he gained 904 rushing yards with ten touchdowns, compared to 19 receptions for seven scores.

All along though college recruiters were projecting the Florida speedster as a receiver, in no small part based on his State Medalist status for the 100-meter dash and high jump heights. As a slot receiver specifically. Sure enough when Holloway enrolled at State last summer, there he was on the first day of preseason practices redshirting in the rotation behind Chad Bumphis, Jameon Lewis, et.al.

Now this spring he is second on that particular depth chart. It's a great role too, where the acceleration and agility are strengths. "The slot position is a little bit quicker position," Holloway says. "You get the ball, you're in the open field and you've got to make somebody miss." Which Holloway has been doing nicely in practices and scrimmages.

Make that ‘scrimmage' because in the second game-type event of spring he didn't line up outside at all. Last Friday he was a full-time running back, the position he'd moved to in the aftermath of the first scrimmage. Veterans LaDarius Perkins and Josh Robinson came out of that one gimpy. While RB Derrick Milton has handled first-team duty just fine since, and walk-on Kasey Akins welcomed a lot of extra snaps, fast help was needed.

"And going back to running back is natural to me," Holloway said. "I've been doing it since I was younger, so it feels good."

He looked good too, toting 17 times for 83 yards against the second defense mostly. Interestingly, Holloway got stronger (or maybe the defense slower?) in the second half. Because after the break Holloway gained 65 yards on ten carries, and had five of his six rushes which went for ten or more yards.

But should anyone be surprised? "You know, I'm used to it," Holloway says. Besides, being in the slot is not all that different from running back in some aspects, so there is not a dramatic cross-over involved in his humble opinion.

"Running back gives you a little more freedom with the ball in your hands, so I like it. The slot position is a big position for us. And so is running back position. So I like that I get a chance at both of them."

Judging only by initial spring results the Bulldog offensive staff figures to take as many chances as practical to get Holloway the football. He is already working in the second rotation at kickoff return for example, alongside CB Jamerson Love. Beating out Lewis, Robinson, and others for the starting job won't be easy, he understands.

"I've been at kickoff return and punt return. We're just running through all the skill guys, we're all doing good. Whoever back there is going to get the job done." Wait, the fan will say right now; if this guy is so fast why would he not be top Dog on the return list? Well, the good news is squad speed has been improving of late. Holloway does not dominate, either.

"I mean we have speed school. We have a top, about eight guys who can run with each other. So we all go back-and-forth with wins." Sounds good; who wins the most such races? "I'd say I'm up there. J.Cox, Love, I mean we're all really fast guys. And we have a lot of quick guys on this team."

What matters right now, in spring, is how much is being put on his plate by coaches eager to see what the kid can do. "I feel very versatile and I can help in different ways. So wherever they can put me at, the think I can help the team at, I'm good with. I like having the ball in open space. So whatever we can do to do that, I like it."

Getting Holloway in isolation is a fascinating idea to be sure. This is the usual point in such stories where cautionary notes about real football speed and handling contact are injected. Holloway is well-aware that fleet feet are not assurance of on-field success, especially in a league where everybody can run. On top of that, he has yet to run a real route in a college game, so there's a lot still to be proven as a pass-catcher.

"I've become very accustomed to playing wide receiver. I've been out there a lot learning from Bump and Jameon. And Jameon is a really good teacher. Since Bump left we talk a lot about it and he's helped me out a lot in back-yard catching with Tyler. Right now I'm feeling very comfortable. When I first came in it was a big-time learning curve for me. But like I said, I had guys to teach me a lot. So now I'm comfortable with it."

Obviously Tyler Russell is already comfortable throwing the ball Holloway's direction. As far as meshing with a new position coach, his second in less than a year at State, that has worked out very well. Holloway and Billy Gonzales have made a fast fit.

"It's really good. I heard about him, we talked a lot about him. They told me he was a really good coach and since he's got here he's taught us so much it's ridiculous. I mean, the blocking game is going to another level. The wide receivers I think are going to be the best blockers in the nation this year."

Ahhhh, yes. Blocking. Needless to note a high school scatback rarely does much decoying or sacrificing the body. A Bulldog receiver? They are taught more about blocking than catching at first…as after all, how many routes they run actually end in a reception?

Holloway has bought-in though. "I've got accustomed to the system now." In fact he figures being able to block will make him even better in that open-field stuff, capable of taking more contact and staying upright. "The contact is going to be there. It is football, you've got to expect to get hit some plays. It's just get back up and go to the next one."

Yes, even if the next one weighs—literally—twice Holloway's listed bulk. And hey, Holloway jokes, he could have handled big Nick other ways that day instead of straight-up. "In the game situation it is a little different, you can cut and stuff. We're staying friendly out here!" Besides, an incautious cut-block might topple that big tree…and land him right on top, huh?

"Yeah, that's a big worry, he's a big man."

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