Depth Needed

Ole Miss RB Jeff Scott had a very good spring, and while some others made some moves in the right direction, there is still a need for more depth at the running back slots.

Just about everything concerning spring football has been new, but to the running backs, there was some of the "old" too.

They are the only group on the team with the same coach they have had their whole careers – one Derrick Nix, who Hugh Freeze hired back when he put his staff together.

"The reception I got from being rehired was great and that gave me confidence and I think gave them a little confidence," said Nix. "They are excited about having a new offense and in being in a fast tempo, no-huddle offense. They are a bigger part of the passing game and Coach Freeze believes in being able to run the ball, so they feel like they are getting the whole pie.

"As excited as they were and are, the one thing they learned in spring is that they have to be in better shape to run this offense and it takes a lot mentally to learn because we are signaling all the plays in. We've gotten better in those areas, but this offense is so multiple and there is so much we can do out of it that we have only learned about half of it in spring. This summer and fall will be critical in learning everything. Overall, I have been pleased, but we have work to do."

At tailback, Jeff Scott has taken the bit – on and off the field – and it's given him the early lead in the clubhouse.

"Jeff has been our best guy. He's become a better person as well as a better player. He's taking care of his life off the field now and that has reflected in his play on the field. He's becoming more of a leader by example and he's starting to grasp this offense and what it can do for his production," Nix noted. "He's just got to keep coming with his knowledge and improve his pass protection a little."

Behind Scott is Devin Thomas, followed by Nick Parker and Tobias Singleton.

Tobias Singleton
File Photo

"Devin has played both tailback and fullback," said Nix. "He's just been solid and that's good because we have asked a lot of him in the learning process. He's got to adjust to all of that. He has to improve his hands in the receiving game, and he can always be quicker and faster, but he's been a leader and is the glue in our room.

"I've been excited about Nick. He has lost About 20 pounds and has shown flashes of what he can be. At times, you see a big tailback who runs behind his pads and breaks tackles. He can catch the ball pretty well and he's an above average pass protector. What he needs is to keep losing weight and gain a step or so in speed and quickness. He needs to run 10-15 more pounds and he can contribute.

"Right now, Tobias is an athlete playing running back. It's critical for him to learn the ins and outs of the position. He's got to learn to play with leverage – running with some bend, shoulders over his toes – and keep learning his plays and assignments. He's a plus because as a former WR, who has great hands, we can put him in motion or split him out wide and throw him the ball."

Houston Keyes, Jimmy Potepa, Eric Dietz and D'Lyle Washington, who has missed spring due to injury, are also competing for some playing time at TB.

"Houston has come back from shoulder surgery and has been solid this spring. We need him to gain some weight without losing speed, but overall, solid describes him. We think he can help on special teams next year," Derrick noted. "Jimmy joined us late, but has been a pleasant surprise. He is still learning the game of football, but he's been a pleasant surprise. He's a downhill runner and it's just a matter of him learning the game and our scheme.

"Eric has done a good job of adapting his physical skills to the game of football. He is one of our best looking guys physically. He's fast, but he has not translated it over to the football field yet. He is trying to learn and get it down, but he's got more work to do. D'Lyle has been hurt all spring so I have no eval of him."

H.R. Greer
File Photo

At fullback, H.R. Greer is in control of the position at the end of spring training, followed by Justin Bigham and Taylor Rotenberry, both of whom have recently been moved from tight end to FB.

"H.R. is always a solid competitor and a guy who is willing to do anything we ask. He's hard-nosed and very coachable. He's got to continue to gain some more pop. He's a great weight room guy, but he has to bring that out to the field. I want to see him use his strength and leverage to move more linebackers out of there, but he has done a good job in spring," Nix added. "Bigham just got back with me. He's smart, physical and he knows the offense. I just have to get him more reps to evaluate him better. Taylor is in the same boat. He's very physical, he's smart and he works extra to get things right. Again, I need to get him more reps."

Analysis: Going into spring, there was some major concern about the depth at these positions. That hasn't changed a lot, but it has changed enough with the addition of Singleton and the emergence of Parker to give the coaches more hope. They are still going to rely on the true freshmen they signed – the ones who show they can handle it, but they have developed some options. Overall, this group gets a C+ based on a lack of depth, a familiar theme on the team, and the need for more production beyond Jeff Scott.

This is the sixth in a series of articles printed in the Grove Bowl issue of The Ole Miss Spirit. We will reprint them all here.

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