Ground Gainers

Derrick Nix is getting a good look at a lot of running backs this spring. It's a big part of what the 15 practice sessions, including Grove Bowl, are all about.

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"I'm pleased with all of them," said the Rebels' running backs coach, heading into his seventh season at Ole Miss. "They're competing at a very high level right now. They're all good kids and they're doing it the right way off the field. So I'm very pleased right now."

Jaylen Walton and I'Tavius Mathers are two veterans who return. Nix knows what they can do and is happy with their progress.

"Jaylen's a kid with a tremendous work ethic. I think he's trying to take his game up another notch, just trying to hone in on all the little things from ball security to pass assignments to running precise routes," Nix said of the 5-foot-8, 166-pound junior from Memphis, Tenn. "Being a more of a productive receiver out of the backfield, I think he's just trying to step his game up to an All-SEC level."

Walton had 523 yards last season, second most of the running backs. The leading ground gainer among them was Mathers, who rushed for 563 yards.

"He's doing a good job. I'm trying to challenge him on being more physical. Take the yards that's there. Run a little more through the line. He's doing that right now," Nix said of Mathers, the 5-11, 187, junior from Murfreesboro, Tenn. "He's challenged himself to get better and better."

In the scoring department, Walton accounted for six touchdowns last season while Mathers had three.

Two new faces to the group are Jordan Wilkins and Eugene Brazley. Both are expected to contribute this fall.

Nix said Brazley has the moves to make an impact.

Derrick Nix
File Photo

"Eugene has come on board and given us a little bit more shiftiness," he said of the 5-9, 183, New Orleans, La., product. "He's making the first guy miss. He's got quick feet. And he's bringing something different to the table that we haven't had."

Nix likes Wilkins as well and said he's off to a good start this spring.

"Jordan has shown some physicality for a big guy," Nix said of the 6-1, 209, Wilkins, from Cordova, Tenn. "Surprisingly he is fluid for a big guy. He's got good speed. He's come back very knowledgeable of our offense. He's doing a good job. I'm very pleased with him right now. He gives us more power by his pure size first of all. He's a guy with a 37-inch vertical. He can move the pile. Just looking for bigger and better things from him as we go on through spring ball."

Mark Dodson (5-10, 198) returns for his second season with the Rebels. He got his feet wet last season.

Dodson, from Memphis, gained 124 yards on 22 carries and scored one touchdown last season. He played in 11 games.

The major loss from last season's running back corps was Jeff Scott. The veteran running back accounted for 493 yards and two touchdowns but only played in eight games.

Coming in this fall will be 6-foot, 215-pound junior college transfer Akeem Judd from Durham, N.C.

Nix believes the Rebels are going to be solid in the running backs department when the football season begins in Atlanta against Boise State.

"I just want them all to be the very best they can be," he said, "so that way whoever steps on the field, we don't miss a beat on offense. One guy may exhibit something different from another guy. But when you add it all up, I want the guys to all be able to go out there and compete without any dropoff."

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