Gene Swindoll, Gene's Page

Veteran Bulldog assistant enters his eighth year in Starkville.

Mississippi State returns all running backs from a season ago. The Bulldogs did not sign a running back in the 2016 signing class, so running back boss Coach Greg Knox is not having to spoon feed any of his returning players. The Bulldog offense ran for 1,873 yards last fall, a low in Knox's seven seasons in Starkville. With a veteran group returning, the Bulldogs are looking for better days this fall.

"It's going okay. The older guys are getting themselves back in the routine," Greg Knox said. "We talk about playing with great eyes, so for the older guys it's about getting their eyes focused in the right spot. The younger guys are still learning. They are taking baby steps right now."

The Bulldogs return seniors Brandon Holloway and Ashton Shumpert as well as their back-ups from a season ago, Dontavian Lee and Aeris Williams. Now redshirt sophomores with a season under their belts, Knox expects the tandem of Lee and Williams to make some real strides.

"I feel like spring helped them," Knox said of the talented sophomores. "I think they've gotten a lot smarter, which is going to make them better players. I think this spring helped eliminate a lot of thinking, so they are doing a lot more reacting, which makes them play a lot faster. 

"(Williams) is a bit stronger. As we work our way towards the first scrimmage, you will be able to tell more about how he is able to handle the extra weight he has put on. It's more muscle than weight, which is good. It's solid, so he should be a stronger runner."

Joining the active roster this fall are redshirt freshmen Nick Gibson and Alec Murphy. In their first season, both newcomers showed some real fire in practice. That spark carried over to the spring where both backs made some solid gains in the Maroon and White game.

"They're working," Knox said of the frosh. "It's early and they have a long way to go. We're hoping by scrimmage number two to see some real improvement from them."

Holloway is known for his big play ability, while the other Bulldog backs are known for their physical style of play. Knox reports that he sees Holloway more as the change of pace, while the rest of the running back stable is known more for power.

"Brandon is nifty, he's quick. He is explosive," Knox said. "The other guys are going to be powerful. They have to be strong, they have to break tackles and they have to have good pad level. Our other backs are more of our fastball and Holloway is that change-up pitch. The defense has to play really sound against him, because at any time he can hit a home run."

A back like Holloway brings a unique skill set to the Bulldog offense. The Tampa, Florida standout can be used in a variety of ways. Knox enjoys being able to move Holloway around to create mismatches that work in the Bulldogs' favor.

"We try to get him the ball in as many ways as possible," Knox said. "We like to create opportunities where he can get the ball out in space where he can work 1-on-1. He's a tough kid now. Not only is he physically tough, he's mentally tough too. He will push through the tough times. He don't mind throwing it in there. When it gets to that point, he will lower his pads and throw it in there.

"He has a lot of confidence. He is a very confident athlete back there. He is very confident in himself and his ability. He knows the offense. When you're confident, you play well and he did."

Fellow senior Shumpert is looking to have his best year as a Bulldog this fall. Thrown into the starting mix last season after 2014 ground gainer Josh Robinson opted early for the NFL, Shumpert showed some flashes, but lost the starting job late in the year. Knox believes Bulldog fans will see a more polished runner this fall in Shumpert.

"I think he was still learning the game," Knox said of Shumpert. "Josh had departed a year early and I think (Shumpert) was thrown into it when he was still learning the game. He didn't meet our expectations of what we were hoping for and looking for. Now, I feel like he's at that point.

"He's a guy with mental toughness. He understands the mistakes that he made. He knew that the only way to correct it was to continue working. He could go in the tank, but that ain't going to correct it. He knew what he had to do to get it corrected. He went out and worked everyday."

Knox is well aware that his unit will need to have a big year if the Bulldogs are going to have the season that they hope to have. With a new starter at quarterback, the running game can be his best friend.

"You want to take the pressure off of the quarterback," Knox said. "You can do that with a solid run game. I think our guys will be solid. We have a good solid group. We have to produce. We have to do the little things right that are going to produce the extra yards to move the chains."

Mississippi State will host South Alabama on September 3rd in the season opener for both teams. Kickoff is set for 11 AM and tickets are available. Make plans to attend.

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