Productive Spring Sets Up Six-Dog Group for Competitive Pre-Season

Much of the spring football buzz was how busy Coach Brian Johnson was getting enough snaps for his four quarterbacks. Forgive Coach Greg Knox if he looked at that group and sniffed ‘too easy’.

Because Knox had one-third more Bulldogs to train, drill, practice, and scrimmage. There were six scholarship running backs, not to mention the usual crew of volunteers, needing spring snaps. Knox might have had an easier task slicing-up a pizza for everyone in the running backs meeting room than splitting-up spring carries!

Still Knox came away satisfied, much as any position coach can be this time of year. “It’s been a productive spring,” Knox said.

Running through the running roster, Knox had a definite three-tier team. There are the seniors Brandon Holloway and Ashton Shumpert at the top; third-year sophomores Aeris Williams and Dontavian Lee forcing their way into primary roles; and then the redshirt freshmen Nick Gibson and Alec Murphy who had some pretty entertaining scrimmages on Scott Field.

Now the Bulldogs are on their May break, and coaches are focusing on recruiting and camps and their own vacations. But all summer Knox will be devising practice schedules to again divvy-up August snaps.


What is your overview of spring practice? “It’s been a productive spring. Shumpert, Holloway, Aeris Williams, Dontavian Lee, those have been the four guys that have taken steps forward. Our two freshmen, Nick Gibson and Alec Murphy, are still learning what’s going on but showing signs of what we’re looking for out of our running backs.”


Practices showed a greater emphasis on the ground game in 2016. Have the backs responded to that need to be more productive? “I think they have. I think they understand in order for us to be successful we need to provide a running game and our production must be a lot better.”


There were times you showed a two-back set, usually a ‘speed’ guy and a ‘power’ guy? “We’re trying to use it a little bit because of our depth at running back. So we’re trying to get those guys on the field. And getting them more reps this spring so they could learn what’s going on.”


You have a wide range of ages and experiences in this group? “It’s a great mixture. Because you have Shumpert and Holloway that are the seniors. Then you have Lee and Williams, those two; and Gibson and Murphy as the freshmen. So it’s a good mixture of the whole, total group, a good mixture of backs.”


How have the two old backs, Holloway and Shumpert, performed? “I think their mentality this spring has been take it one step at a time and get better day by day. And I think they’ve all shown that. We always talk about the smarter you are the better player you’ll be. I think we’ve gotten a lot smarter. I think we’re beginning to grow as players and getting better, and it’s starting to show on the field.”


Can you see the difference in Williams and Lee now that they have played in games? “You can. You can see their mentality start to change. Because they’re beginning to understand the game better, the mental side of it not just the physical side. So I think their understanding of the game has helped them become better players.”


How are the two redshirts, Gibson and Murphy, progressing? “The freshmen are still learning. Sometimes you put in so much and their head is swimming! But they’re beginning to grasp the offense a little bit more. And you could see their production start to improve towards the end of spring.”


During this spring you put different backs together with different offenses, quarterbacks and blocking? “I try to mix it up. I try to let the young guys run with the second team, I never put them with the first team. But I put Dontavian Lee and Aeris Williams with the first team. I try to mix it up a little big to make sure they’re running behind our top linemen.”


Did you want to come out of spring with a defined order among the backs? “No, I want to come out of spring technically and fundamentally sound. You know, with better knowledge and better understanding of what we’re trying to accomplish on offense. And I think we’ve done that.”


So you are not in a hurry to settle the depth chart before preseason? “No, I’m not worried about that right now. We’ll let fall camp make that decision. Right now I’m more concerned about our technique, our fundamentals, and knowledge of the game.”


Did it help this spring that for the first time in years you practiced against a different defensive scheme, that the new defensive staff has brought in? “It’s been a learning experience. We get to go in the meeting room and look at it and communicate with each other, talk about it, and learn exactly what is happening out there.”


What are you asking the backs to work on during summer when you can’t coach them directly? “Technique and fundamentals. Learning every day. Keep working, studying film. All of that goes into how much can you get better between now and the start of fall camp.”

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