One To Many

At the end of spring football, Running Backs Coach Derrick Nix had one RB - Jeff Scott - he was comfortable with. Now he has five or six. It went from slim pickings to pick one and go.

Ole Miss Running Backs Coach Derrick Nix claims he didn't have many sleepless night last summer, even though coming out of spring training he felt comfortable with one back - Jeff Scott, who is on the small side and prone to nicks and bruises.

We're not sure he was being completely honest, but here's his reasoning.

"I lost a tad bit of sleep, but the way we recruited, I felt confident they could come in and play the position and I always knew Mackey had the ability," he smiled. "Overall, I was confident over the summer things would turn around at the position. When the freshmen were able to come in for the whole summer, I figured they would be ready to go in fall camp. With them, it's mostly mental if they have ability and both of them do."

Now, the backfield is crowded, with "five or six" guys Nix feels confident in.

"That's a good thing. We were worried about the position, but we signed some really good guys and had one guy (Randall Mackey) make a successful position change," said Nix. "With our younger guys (I'tavius Mathers and Jaylen Walton), they need experience, but I think the ability and want-to is there."

Randall Mackey
Associated Press

Mackey has probably been the biggest story of fall camp. He has transitioned from quarterback to tailback, well, beautifully.

"I knew he was a great athlete and coupled with being enthusiastic about moving to the position, it has all clicked for him," said Nix. "He has taken the bull by both horns. I am not surprised from a physical standpoint - I knew he had it in him, but I wasn't sure about him wanting to change and give it everything he has. He has done that.

"Randall has really matured this year. He realizes this is his last shot and he wants it to be a big year. I credit Coach (Hugh) Freeze for his transformation. He attacked Randall head-on when he first got here. He knew Randall had talent and he just told him straight - this is your last shot, what do you want to do with your time left? He took it to heart and has been great." There's a big difference, explained Nix, in running the ball from the quarterback slot and running it from tailback.

"As a quarterback, most of the time the linebackers are dropping and the safeties are in coverage. When he gets the ball at tailback, the linebackers and safeties are filling gaps and coming forward," said Nix. "It's a whole different ballgame. It's not scrambling around. It's hitting a hole and setting up blocks. He's got natural instincts at tailback and he's real tough.

"Knowing that, we have had to work really hard on his ball security and he's done pretty well with that. You have to be able to protect the ball and yourself in traffic. You have to run a lot lower. And that's not to mention the pass protection game. He has adjusted well to all of that."

Nix said Mackey's ball security has improved weekly and his pass protection has come a long way.

"We work on ball security every day and he just gets better and better at it," Nix stated. "In pass protection, he's shown a willingness to do it and that is the most important step in the process. He is not shy at all about contact and he's understanding what we are doing. He will be out there on third downs some in pass protection."

Derrick said Randall reminds him a lot of Dexter McCluster.

"Dexter is probably a little quicker and Randall is a little bigger, but both of them have that innate ability to set up blocks and great agility in the hole," he noted.

As of Monday, the decision has been made to play both Mathers and Walton this year.

Jaylen Walton
File Photo

"They have been wide open and fearless. They have earned the right to get a chance to play and they will help us," Derrick stated. "They are willing to do anything I ask, they understand what we are trying to do, and they can make big plays but are OK when a play only gets three or four yards because they know those are important too.

"Another thing is that they are great character guys who do the right things on and off the field and I am partial to those kinds of kids."

Scott came out of spring as the clear number one at tailback, but he has missed a lot of fall camp with nagging injuries.

"He's missed getting hit," said Nix. "Mentally, he's OK, he understands what we are trying to do and what to do, but sometimes when you aren't hit in fall camp you have to be concerned about coughing the ball up. He needs to get his feel for getting hit back."

Nix said there's also a place for big backs Nick Parker and Devin Thomas.

"We have power sets and protection calls that they are good at. They will used and will be important," he noted.

Nix is in his second tour of duty, so to speak, at Ole Miss. He was on Houston Nutt's staff for four years and was hired by Freeze to continue on in the same capacity as RB coach.

"I have a feeling of deja vu. When I came in here in 2008, everyone talked about what we couldn't do, what we didn't have, what they hadn't done in the past," Nix closed. "Now, we are hearing that again, but a lot of kids are here that have worked to turn this thing around and disprove that.

"We are coming out of nowhere again and only the guys on this team know what we are capable of. I'm looking forward to seeing these kids put everything on the line and turn things around."

OM Spirit Top Stories