Randall, the Runner

Position changes are nothing new in football. For Randall Mackey, however, they're becoming common place.

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Mackey was Ole Miss' primary quarterback last season. He started six of 12 games, while Barry Brunetti and Zack Stoudt, who is no longer with the team, started the remainder. He would have started more games, too, if he hadn't been suspended twice in 2011 for a violation of team rules.

His last suspension extended into the final game of the season; the third-straight loss to in-state rival Mississippi State to cap a 2-10 nightmare of a year. A lot's changed since then. Hugh Freeze was hired. Mackey, meanwhile, was moved to wide receiver in spring practices.

On Friday, Freeze announced the rising senior is on the move again. Citing a lack of depth behind starter Jeff Scott, Mackey will be tried at running back in fall camp, which opens Saturday at 9:45 a.m. in a practice open to the public.

"He's going to be in the tailback room," Freeze said. "That doesn't mean he's always going to line up there. How much can he handle, fall camp will kind of let us know that. But you'll definitely see him hopefully helping Jeff with the job we have to do at tailback. He will line up there some."

Mackey proved capable as a runner as a junior. He appeared in nine games, rushing for 180 yards and one touchdown. He ranked eighth in the Southeastern Conference in total offense at 143.6 yards per game.

The idea to transition Mackey from receiver to running back was thrown around in the spring by running backs coach Derrick Nix.

"Coach Nix has always asked me," Mackey said. "The natural part's easy. The only thing I've got to do is pass protection. I just got to work on that. I love contact. I just want to see how I feel when I've got someone like Mike (Marry) coming through the line and I've got to block him. It's going to be a challenge for me."

Randall Mackey
Associated Press

"We kind of tinkered with it this spring," Nix said. "He's a natural. Some guys have it, some of them don't. My job is to not mess him up. Coach him up on some finer things, then turn him loose and let him go play."

Ole Miss could certainly use Mackey.

Behind Scott, who led the team in rushing with 529 rushing yards as a sophomore, is a collection of unproven players, save for senior Devin Thomas. However, in his career, Thomas has produced a grand total of 120 rushing yards and one touchdown.

"Randall Mackey, he's a talented player," Scott said. "He can basically play any position -- quarterback, running back, receiver. He's an athlete. I definitely think it's going to work out for him. He'll help us out. He can do it all."

"It's going to be critical," Nix said of the need for Mackey to emerge. "I'm really counting on him to be a guy we have in the fold every week. Whatever happens, he gets five carries, 10 carries, 20 -- it doesn't matter. It depends on his performance."

Sophomore Bo Wallace, in his first year on campus and in a direct competition with Brunetti to be the team's starting quarterback, said the team must utilize Mackey's play-making ability. He would know.

Wallace and Mackey both attended East Mississippi Community College. Wallace followed Mackey as the team's quarterback. To prepare, he'd pop in a tape of a game quarterbacked by Mackey.

Mackey jumped off the screen.

"We could probably put Randall anywhere on the field and he'd make plays for us," he said. "We went to the same junior college, so I'd watch film of when Randall played, ‘cause that offense was the same one we used. I'd always break down Randall's film first, and Randall would just tear kids up.

"I've always known Randall was a good runner. He's going to do great things for us. For him to be that explosive, you have to have him on the field somewhere."

Brunetti agrees. Like Mackey once was, he's a dual-threat quarterback and can tuck the ball and run when needed.

Randall Mackey
Bruce Newman

Brunetti and Mackey went head-to-head at quarterback last fall. Brunetti started against BYU when Mackey was ruled out due to suspension.

"Mackey's probably the most-talented player on this team," Brunetti said. "He can do more. He can play running back. The next play, you might see him at receiver. You can even put Mackey on defense and he could do it. He's talented.

"God gave him a lot of ability. He's fast, he's quick, he's strong. He can do a lot of things. Running back's going to come natural to him."

But whether Mackey transitions well to running back extends beyond the practice fields. As previously noted, he's had his share of off-the-field issues.

"Very mature. He's just got to keep working," junior safety Charles Sawyer said. "This team is a totally different team to me. Everybody's in it for each other, not just themselves. As a person, he's come a long way. But you can never stop growing."

Sawyer draws comparisons between Mackey and another Randall: Green Bay Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb, formerly of Kentucky.

"I see him as a Randall Cobb," he said. "He has the speed, he's shifty, he's strong and he has great vision. That's who he reminds me of. With him, he played receiver. He can catch the ball; that's no thing. They can do a lot of things with him."

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