Felker Talks Runnning Backs

Mississippi State running backs coach Rockey Felker talks about his tailbacks and fullbacks.

Talk about your position players, beginning with Anthony Dixon.
"We certainly have high hopes for Anthony. He gained 1,000 yards and we feel like he probably left a few hundred yards on the table. Next year, we think he is a 1,500 yard rusher instead of a 1,000 yard rusher.

"The best thing about him (this year) was that he stayed healthy. There is a lot to be said, in our league with all the pounding that a tailback takes, that we were able to give it to him 20 to 25 times a game and he was able to take that physical pounding. And another thing about him is he really competes and really loves to play the game. He really puts a lot of energy into it. He really catches the ball well and he does, for the most part, a really good job as a blocker.

"A running back has to be more than a ball carrier. He also has to be able to pick up linebackers when they blitz, block defensive ends sometimes on pass-protection, and he really has to do a good job of faking it when you throw the ball.

"Hopefully, we can improve his reading the defenses. For any running back, it's important for him to read the defenses and react to the defensive personnel and find the correct hole. Sometimes, Anthony freelances a little bit too much. And he knows that because we have talked about it. That's something we are going to work hard on this spring."

Christian Ducre.
"Christian was a pleasant surprise this year. He gave us a different dimension, a little different running style than Anthony. And we want him to become more of an every down back, instead of a one or two play type back. His endurance needs to get better. But he's a 220-pound back who can make plays with the ball. He's also a good blocker and catches the ball well out of the backfield.

"It's important that Anthony and Christian take their play to the next level. We don't want them to be satisfied with where they are now because we definitely aren't. Instead of just being good backs, we want them to be All-SEC type players. That's what we are pushing with them and that is our goal for them. That's what spring practice is going to be about for them."

Both Anthony and Christian are big running backs at 235 and 220. Considering that you are high on both as blockers, is there any chance you may try to alternate them at fullback, possibly as a hybrid running/blocking fullback, just so you could get them in the game at the same time more often?
"There were times we did play them in the game at the same time. But for one of them to become a fullback type player, the blocking would have to improve a lot more. Our fullbacks this year were just like an offensive linemen lining up in the backfield sometimes. The blocking responsibilities they had are a little tougher than what we asked of Anthony and Christian.

"Anthony and Christian are very similar to what the fullback does in pass-protection, but in run-blocking we asked our fullbacks to be a lot more hardnose than Anthony and Christian are doing."

What are your thoughts about freshman Robert Elliott?
"Robert improved a lot from the August practices to the end of the season, particularly in run-blocking, pass-protection, faking, and in just knowing what to do in his assignments. By the end of the year, he didn't have any missed assignments and pretty much knew his correct steps, things he struggled with back in August because it was all new to him then. He always ran hard and made some plays, but he went the wrong way a lot of times. As the year went on, that improved a lot and he became a guy we could count on.

"I think he went through a phase early where he was disappointed that he wasn't playing, but as the year went on I think he realized that he wasn't ready, and the best thing for him was to be redshirted. Now, as I told him the other day, he's not redshirted any longer - this is a new year and we are going to throw him in the mix. We are anxious to see what kind of spring he has. We hope to see that he is going to give us speed and quickness and big-play potential."

Does he bring elusiveness to the mix?
"I think he is more elusive than anything else right now. He seems to have a knack for getting away from folks. And he runs with a lot of determination and doesn't go down easy."

Talk about your fullbacks.
"We put Eric Hoskins in a tough position this year and he did a real good job for us. We were looking for answers at fullback and Coach Croom wanted to give him a chance. So, we stuck him in there and he played really well. You don't throw to the fullback many times, but when you do it's always a big play. And he caught every pass that was thrown to him and really gave us a big lift at that position. I think it hurt us when he went down late in the year.

"We are hopeful he will be healthy and ready to go (next fall) because we have a lot of confidence in him. Due to his injury, we aren't sure how much spring work he will get - he probably won't get any."

Brandon Hart.
"Brandon came a long way for us. I think he really improved throughout the year. His blocking improved, but probably, more than anything, his catching the ball improved. He made a big catch late in the bowl game on the winning drive that was a big play. We like what we see in him."

Arnil Stallworth.
"Arnil Stallworth had some shoulder surgery, so he probably won't do much this spring. But we were very encouraged with what we saw from him when he played some fullback late in the season during the bowl practices. He didn't get into the game, but he gives us a little more big-play potential at fullback."

Ethan Stockett.
"The spring is going to be about seeing what kind of football player he can be. He showed us during the fall that he can block and that he has good hands. But he's got to get his weight down and become committed both on the field and in the classroom."

Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by email at swindoll@genespage.com.

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