RBs - Better than advertised

Running Backs Coach Frank Wilson wasn't sure what he was going to find out in spring training from his RBs and fullbacks, but when all the dust settled he had a smile on his face and optimism about the 2005 season about the players in the positions he coaches.

When the new coaching staff came on board at Ole Miss, they had heard talk of the running back slots being "average."

That's not what Running Backs Coach Frank Wilson has found in spring.

"I think we have a chance to be pretty good in the fall in the backfield. I have been pleasantly surprised in spring," Wilson said. "We have to work on ball security, but there are a lot of things we are doing very well.

"We've made tremendous strides in learning the system and aren't missing as many assignments as we were early on. The guys have had a great attitude and work ethic, which is half the battle. At running back, we are pretty deep. At fullback, we are a bit thin and banged up. That's an area of concern, but I think we'll be OK there when fall rolls around.

"We need to spruce up some things in technique, but we've got time, and with the attitude these kids have shown, we'll get it down by fall."

At RB, Wilson believes the top three are "interchangeable."

Junior Jamal Pittman has gotten more snaps with the number one offense than the others, but senior Vashon Pearson and sophomore Alan Abrams have kept the heat on him and have shared snaps in practice.

"Jamal is a great zone runner, which is our base running game. He has excellent patience and strength and is a runner who can get us the tough yards," Wilson continued. "He's also been impressive catching the ball out of the backfield. I'd like to see him improve his play on play-action plays – he needs to draw more defenders to him with better fakes and hitting holes harder without the ball. When he learns to finish in those situations, he'll be much more effective for us. We expect big things from Jamal. He has been great on and off the field. Ball security and finishing every play will give him a chance to be excellent."

With Pearson, Wilson has a proven player.

"Vashon has experience and that's important. He's shown signs of being exactly what you are looking for in an RB," Wilson allowed. "On the perimeter, he's excellent. He's also catching the ball well. He's hard-nosed and has shown toughness and the ability to play with a little pain. What we need to work on with Vashon is his understanding of the tempo of zone running. He's our fastest back with excellent cutting ability and good acceleration out of cuts."

Abrams started slowly, but has picked things up lately, despite an ankle injury that cost him a couple of days of practice.

"From day one of spring, Alan has continuously improved," Frank said. "Early on, he had to get a grasp of zone running, that everything was not always a cutback move. He's been outstanding in running north and south and he's good at pressing while allowing the play to develop. He's got solid hands and has been good in pass protection too. Alan hasn't been a surprise, but let's say I'm pleased with his progress from start to finish."

(Note: Abrams missed the last week of spring training with a hurt ankle, but he will be healthy when fall practice rolls around and is participating in offseason workouts now.)

Sophomore Hiram White has also made an impact in late spring. He got an opportunity to run the ball some when Abrams was out and Pittman and Pearson were having trouble holding on to the ball. He produced.

"Hiram has some moves and a knack for running the ball. He gives great effort and has a wonderful attitude. He's also been consistent on his assignments. I'm watching him closely because he's gotten better every day," Wilson continued.

A player of interest who cannot play in fall but has made a major impression in spring is transfer BenJarvus Green-Ellis.

"I like that young man. He's a blue collar guy who comes to work every day. He has also shown us flashes of why he was one of the leading rusher in the Big 10 the past two years. He's a multi-purpose back who we expect big things from after he redshirts next year," Wilson noted.

At fullback, redshirt freshman Jason Cook has been solid for Wilson and has maintained the top spot throughout spring.

"He's real tough and has been very consistent all spring. Jason is unselfish and has a great desire to get better and be an impact player. He's been great on and off the field. We need to get him stronger so he matches up better with the defensive linemen he'll be blocking, but he'll get there because he wants to," Frank said. "He does the dirty work for us and does it well."

From there, things get murky. Junior Anthony Hobgood was the main backup, but a concussion may have ended his career. He's had that problem in the past and the multiplicity of that has clouded his future in football.

A pair of rugged walkons – sophomore Seth Michaelson and freshman Clay Haury – round out the position now.

"Anthony was doing well before his latest concussion. We aren't sure about his future right now," Wilson stated. "Seth and Clay are try-hard kids who don't mind mixing it up and doing what they can. They both have a lot to learn, but they could add depth to the position if they continue to progress."

The "wild card" in the equation is senior Brandon Jacobs, who is out this spring with an injury. Will he be a tailback, a fullback or both? With the need situation, it would appear he'd be leaning toward fullback, but no decisions have been made.

"I can't wait to get him back. What we'll do with him, I don't know, but he fits somewhere based on the film I have seen of Brandon," Wilson closed.

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