Cause for Concern

Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze acknowledged the lack of depth at running back Thursday, a day before his team opens spring practices.

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The team is thin, and its only significant contributor, junior Jeff Scott, is working through academic issues. Scott will likely participate in practices this weekend, but he'll surely sit out at least a few practices over the next month.

There are limited options behind Scott. Ole Miss has but eight running backs listed, and only two of those players -- senior Devin Thomas and junior Korvic Neat -- saw any real playing time last season.

Freeze said the coaching staff will have to be cautious with how they approach practices, which open tomorrow at 3:30 p.m. The first two practices are open to the public.

"You can't have full tackling but for a certain number of practices. Other ones, it's 50 percent or less," he said. "We've got to be careful there of how much we're hitting the same tailback. I'm hoping that we get some surprises there."

Sophomore Nick Parker has been moved back to running back. He's lost 20 pounds, according to Freeze. Parker, of South Panola in Batesville, Miss., didn't see action last season. He was redshirted as a freshman in 2010.

"He's working extremely hard to hopefully get a look," Freeze said of Parker. "Devin Thomas is hungry to prove that he can do it, also. We are thin at that spot, no doubt. We will have to evaluate probably daily before we go out, kind of where we are with how much contact we can afford to do at that spot."

The 5-foot-7, 175-pound Scott, a junior, played in 10 games with nine starts last season.

Jeff Scott
Associated Press

He tied for 10th in the Southeastern Conference with seven touchdowns. He finished eighth in the league with 101.4 all-purpose yards per game, and led Ole Miss with 529 rushing yards on 116 carries.

However, Freeze has often mentioned Scott among those players who have considerable work to do in the classroom this spring, joining wide receiver/cornerback Nick Brassell and Neat, who could also miss practices this spring.

"We're going to take each case differently," Freeze said. "But there will be some kids you don't see this weekend because we're trying to set the standard for academic success here. That is the most important thing they're here for, is to get a degree. We want to send that message loud and clear."

Even with the lack of depth, Freeze said Ole Miss has to get its work in and have physical practices. Yes, the injury concern is always there, especially for such a thin group. But there's plenty to be done for a team that has lost 16 of its last 17 conference games and finished 2-10 a year ago.

"Spring practice is to develop a toughness and a mindset," Freeze said. "We've got to get that accomplished. Hopefully we'll get through it healthy. But I don't know how to become a tougher football team than to put them through some physical, high-tempo practices."

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