Walton's Way

Jaylen Walton might still be the smallest guy in the room. But now he’s the oldest, too.

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Walton, who led Ole Miss with 586 rushing yards last season, is the lone veteran running back standing following the transfers of I’Tavius Mathers and Mark Dodson in the offseason.

Walton’s OK with it, though. Granted, Mathers and Dodson combined for 539 yards and seven touchdowns, but second-leading rusher Jordan Wilkins returns, as does Eugene Brazley and redshirt junior Akeem Judd.

“I’m just trying to lead the guys in the right direction,” Walton said. “The backfield is definitely a productive group. We’re probably four or five deep, and all of us are good backs.”

Judd is the wildcard of the group.

A junior college transfer, the 6-foot, 220-pound Judd sat out last season due to a lingering toe injury. Now he’s back to full health, and Walton believes he can help the Rebel backfield in a number of ways, most especially in pass protection.

“Akeem’s been doing real good,” Walton said. “He runs hard, he blocks well and he picks up protection probably better than any of us. He has good route-running. He’s feeling comfortable in the backfield.

“With his size, he definitely brings a better pass protector, better inside runner. He can run on the outside as well. He’s a pretty good back. To be 220, he can do pretty much everything a back my size can do.”

Ole Miss is adding to its offense this spring, from new plays to backfield alignments and handoff exchanges. Installation is hard enough on its own. For the Rebels, however, the process has been made more difficult by injuries to the offensive line.

Among those unavailable are Laremy Tunsil, Robert Conyers, Aaron Morris, Daronte Bouldin and Sean Rawlings. Ole Miss can barely put together a first and second team.

“It makes it very difficult,” Walton said. “We’ve got a problem with staying healthy right now, as you can see. We’re kind of hurting in a couple of positions. But it’s all going good. That gives the other guys an opportunity to learn the offense and give them a chance to play as well.”

Ole Miss presses on, and Walton is helping lead the charge.

He has lofty goals for his senior season, including besting the production of former Ole Miss running back Dexter McCluster. McCluster became the first player in SEC history with 1,000 rushing yards (1,169) and 500 receiving yards (520) in the same season as a senior. McCluster is second only to Kayo Dottley on the Ole Miss career rushing charts for yards in a season.

“This is my last one,” Walton said. “I’m trying to get all (the carries) that I can. I want to play every down. Whatever I’ve got to do to play every down is exactly what I’m going to do.

“I want to win an SEC championship, I want to compete for a (national championship). As far as a personal goal, basically just remain healthy and go after Dexter McCluster's record that he set his senior year.”

Spoken like a true veteran.

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