Young Bulldog Backs Making Progress

Mississippi State fans said goodbye to junior running back Josh Robinson after the Franklinton, Louisiana native declared for the NFL draft after the Capital One Orange Bowl. Now Bulldog fans are eager to see who emerges from the stable of backs vying for playing time this fall. Running backs' coach Greg Knox reports that he is pleased with his group so far.

"The young guys are still growing and still learning," Knox said. "I see our older guys confident and relaxed and they've been aggressive in their situations."

Ashton Shumpert appears to be the lead dog, so to speak, heading into the final week of spring practice, with speedster Brandon Holloway providing a chance of pace.

"I think we are right where we need to be," Knox shared. "I feel that Shumpert and Holloway are proven. They know what is going on and they are very confident in what they are doing. The two young guys are still learning. They are still a work in progress."

Every freshman back shows up on campus filled with vigor, but the early days of practice can be a humbling experience. Knox reports that he simply wants the newcomers to be willing to work and willing to learn as they get up to college speed.

"They just need to show patience and come in and learn the offense," Knox said. "It takes time and they have to learn time management as far as learning our offense. They first have to learn how to manage everything, then learn to take everything in and then be able to execute it."

One could certainly make the argument, that Knox has more weapons at his disposal this season than an in any other season in his Bulldog tenure. From the sound of things, Mississippi State fans should expect to see a running back by committee approach this fall.

"I like our depth at the position," Knox said. "I think everybody is putting themselves in a position to play. It's just going to be about who can execute at a high level consistently."

Last season, Dontavian Lee and Aeris Williams redshirted. The two highly touted backs have begun to prepare to play this year. The install and additional reps this spring have proven to be a beneficial.

"It's huge," Knox said of this spring for the talented duo. "They need every rep they can get. For Shumpert and Holloway, it's continuing to grow and continuing to get better. For our two redshirt freshmen, it is a must that they get a lot of reps this spring and play football."

Both Bulldogs back preparing for their college debuts have shown to be fairly versatile. Lee and Williams can both move the chains on the ground, but as receivers out of the backfield, both are providing a solid charge to the Mississippi State offensive.

"That is one thing they got, is they got great hands," Knox said. "Our ability to get them the ball in space is great, because they have such great hands.

"(Dontavian) is grinding. He is grinding at it. He is a hard runner and he's a load to bring down. For him, it is just continuing to grow in the offense. The more he learns, the better player he is going to be."

With a handful of spring sessions left, Knox has some very simple goals for his running backs.

"I just want them to continue to grow and eliminate mistakes," Knox said. "If we can just grow in the offense, become more knowledgeable and eliminate mistakes it will be a much better scrimmage this Saturday.

"The first time in the stadium, we saw some things that coaches normally see when you enter the atmosphere for the first time and being out there on the field for the first time. We saw some mistakes, but we needed to see them get out there and play by themselves without coaches right there in their back pocket telling them what they need to do. We're growing.

"I want to see improvement in knowledge as far as what is going on. Being able to pre-snap read and understand what the defense is giving us and what they're trying to take away."

The Mississippi State offensive line has paved the way for Bulldog backs to put together some tremendous seasons during Dan Mullen's tenure as head coach. Coach John Hevesy has to replace three starters from a season ago. The coach whose players depend on those Big Dogs to open running lanes has been pleased by what he has seen this spring.

"I think those guys are doing a great job," Knox said. "They're a lot like my young running backs. The more they play, the better they get. I've seen that every practice. They're getting a lot of reps, so they are getting better and better everyday."

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