Grid observations, Part V

Through five practices of spring training, the offensive coaches have been most pleased with the progress of the running game. Some of that is happening up front with the offensive line, but some of it is definitely coming from the prowess of the Rebel runners. Read about it inside in Part V of our grid observations series.

On the offensive side of the ball in the early going of spring football training, there has been a common theme when discussing progress with Coach Ed Orgeron and the offensive staff.

The running game is showing promise.

Coach O is giving some of that credit to the work of Coach Art Kehoe and the improving offensive line, but he's also very pleased with the running backs to this point.

Offensive Coordinator Dan Werner echoed those sentiments last week.

"The running game is coming along. While we only have about 30% of our run game in, what I have seen so far has been positive. We are doing some good things up front, but just as importantly is that we have a good group of running backs," he explained. "The fullbacks are doing a good job in helping open the holes and the tailbacks are running hard and with some good instincts."

When Coach O came to Ole Miss, he was hoping to develop a one-two punch at tailback similar to what Southern Cal had with Reggie Bush and Lyndale White. While nobody is suggesting the Rebs are that far along, the one-two punch is starting to look pretty good for Ole Miss.

Junior BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who sat out last season after transferring in from Indiana, was expected to be an impact player in spring. He has not disappointed anyone.

BenJarvus has a low center of gravity, good balance and the ability to break tackles with his strength. He's also a patient runner who has a knack for getting the most out of an opening. But what was most apparent about Green-Ellis to this point is that he does possess an extra gear when he needs it. BenJarvus is not a speedster, but when he gets in the open field, he can move.

A lot of people have asked us who Green-Ellis reminds us of. It remains to be seen if he is this good or not, but Auburn's Ronnie Brown comes to mind from a style perspective. Tough, patient and an intelligent runner who has speed when he needs it.

Last year, sophomore Mico McSwain was moved from defense to tailback in order to take advantage of his immense athleticism and speed. He didn't have a clue about being a running back, but he was still able to make plays, sometimes big plays. He measured his performance in 2005 and figured out what he needed to do to improve.

Task one was to gain a little weight and strength. Mission accomplished in the offseason with 6-8 pounds of body weight and marked improvement in the weight room. Task two was to keep working on his RB skills. Mico will be the first to tell you he is not a finished product at running back as his counterpart Green-Ellis due to a lack of experience, but from what we saw in the scrimmage a week ago, Mico is more savvy than before. He's a more proficient inside runner, he has maintained his explosiveness and speed, and he's learning by the snap.

The one-two punch Coach O was hoping for is indeed developing and should be potent in September.

Walk-on junior Hiram White is not real big - 184 pounds - and not as fast as Mico, but when he has the ball in his hands, he makes good things happen. He runs harder than his size would indicate and he's got good RB instincts. If his opportunity arises in 2006, Hiram would not be a liability.

Cutting a path through defensive lines is sophomore Fullback Jason Cook and junior Seth Michaelson. Cook is coming back from a shattered forearm last October and appears to be completely healed. He's bigger, stronger and faster than a year ago and that has translated into being a more physical player than he was when he earned the starting slot last summer as a redshirt freshman. Michaelson is also a year bigger and stronger and more experienced. He is a reliable backup to Cook.

All five backfield performers have good hands in the passing game, which is also a bonus.

Overview: From the early signs, the Rebel running back situation is in very good hands, and there is also help on the way with a couple of excellent signees. This could end up being a definite strength of the team.

Tomorrow, in Part VI, we will look at the quarterbacks in camp and the special teams performers.

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