Gene Swindoll, Gene's Page

Bulldog Backfield Develops Despite Small Spring Numbers

The position group was small. The demands remain large for Bulldog running backs coach Greg Knox this spring season.

For the most part his roster, of three healthy scholarship backs able to practice, was able to meet those camp demands. Now come August a couple more runners will join that unit and round-out what Knox and Coach Dan Mullen will scheme-up for the 2017 season.

Knox, one of the two remaining members of Mullen’s original Mississippi State staff, spoke about the backfield situation following the last real practice of this session.


KNOX: “It’s been a good spring. I think we’ve made some strides. I think we’ve gotten better. Starting with Aeris Williams, I thought he improved a lot.”

“I thought his leadership has shown up. He’s doing a great job of being a leader not only on the field but off the field, in the meeting room. I think he’s had a really good spring.”

“Dontavian (Lee) has finally been healthy this spring and I thought he’s had a really good spring. I thought Nick Gibson just continues to get better each and every day.”


Is there a different feel without the seniors in the room? “It’s different. Whenever you lose two guys like that, with that much experience, it changes a little bit.”

“But again I think Aeris has stepped up a little bit. It’s a change that comes with different personalities in that meeting room. So yeah it’s a little bit different than it as in the past.”

“It’s just the difference in personalities where Shumpert and Holloway were kind of more laid-back and quiet, more reserved. Now Aeris and Dontavian are the senior of the room; a little bit more reach-out, a little bit more outgoing in that way.”

“So that has changed.”


Was there a game last year where you felt it ‘cllicked’ for Williams? “It was. I can’t remember what game it was but I remember asking him what was the difference? He said basically I started putting in more time, I started studying and started getting better. When I started learning what was going on things started to click easier for him.”

“And that made him a better player.”


What do you hope to see in the spring game from your group? “What I hope to see are the things we’ve been working at every day in practice. Just using your technique and fundamentals, playing with great eyes. If you do that you have a great chance for success.”


Does Aeris have what it takes to be a workhorse back? “He’s a workhorse. That he is. I don’t ever have to worry about him being prepared, ready to go coming to work once he gets on the field. He is a hard-hat guy. He’s going to come to work every day, he’s going to bring his lunch, he’s going to give you everything he’s got. I can count on that.”


What is Dontavian able to do now that he’s healthy that he wasn’t before? “A lot. He’s making cuts again. That ankle injury held him back as far as making sharp cuts and everything.”
“I think now that he’s healthy, he’s lost a couple of pounds…I’d like to get about five more off him but he’s dropped a couple of pounds. So he’s making sharper cuts.”

“And mentally he’s making better decisions. And that helps you in making sharper cuts, when you’re make smart decisions.”


What could his role be come fall? “He’s got a chance to be the starter, you know? As long as he continues to develop and improve every day. Again, I think we’ve got three guys right now that can go on the field and carry the load.”

“Aeris, Dontavian, Nick, we’ve got three backs that are capable of being really, really good SEC backs.”


Looking ahead, how much do the running backs put on themselves to lead this offense? “Well, I don’t want them to put much on themselves. As coaches we’ll kind of dictate how it goes. Dan does a great job calling a game so we’ll look at what we’ve got, what weapons we’ve got. And we’ll try to put them in position to where they can be successful.”

“And I think there will be times the running backs will be in that position; where we’ll put the ball in their hands and allow them to be creators for us and make big plays.”


Last spring and bowl camp you showed some two-back sets. With the numbers this spring were you able to do that? “Not this spring. We stayed away from that because of our low numbers. Hopefully getting Alec Murphy back, and come the fall with Kylin Hill in here, things will be looking up. Then we can do some two-back stuff.”


Are you expecting Hill to come in and make a difference? “I am! We’ll get him here and give him every opportunity and see how he does. We’ll just go from there with it.”

“But he’s going to get every shot to show us how good he is, how quick he picks up the offense, and how well he can produce.”


Is there a plan to take some carries away from Nick Fitzgerald this year? “No. Nick, his carries come off of reads. So his reads can allow him to throw the ball, alright? His read could tell him to run it. His read could tell him to hand it off to the running back.”

“So he runs a lot of read plays, so you never know where that ball is going. Defense dictates that, you know. So a lot of times you may see him throw the ball and that may actually be a run play that we called. He may actually throw it because that’s what the defense told him to do.”

“We don’t have a lot of plays where we just call it specifically where the quarterback is running the ball. Maybe, one, where it is a designed run for the quarterback. And that’s the quarterback sneak. Otherwise it is a read and the defense dictates what he does.”


Is Dontavian Lee a physical type of running back? “Mentality, that’s what we want to get him to. And that’s one thing we stressed this spring: knowing who you are and run the way you are.”

“He’s a big guy. So he’s got to run that way. He’s not an east-and-west runner, he’s not a speed guy. He’s not a Holloway, alright, so don’t be trying to run outside, don’t try to run east-and-west. Lower your pads and get north-and-south. Play to who you are. Those are some of the things we stressed to him this spring.”

Gene's Page Top Stories