In 2006, one area of the Ole Miss football team considered a success was the running attack, led by the 1,000-yard effort of BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who followed in the footsteps of Kayo Dottley and Deuce McAllister as the only Rebel backs to ever reach that milestone.
The Rebs also got surprising results from converted QB Bruce Hall, who averaged 5.7 yards a carry playing behind BJGE, the work horse in the stable.
Running Backs Coach Frank Wilson said the Rebel RBs – which return both Green-Ellis and Hall for their senior campaigns – have not rested on their laurels this spring.
"As a group, they have matured. They've grown as running backs, collectively and individually," Wilson expressed. "They all identified what they needed to work on and have done the extra work necessary to improve in those areas.
"I have also been very pleased with their communication and their understanding of the offense – what we are trying to accomplish in the running game. We aren't just getting the ball and running to daylight. Those guys are now more patient and understand the blocking schemes better. When you really understand what's happening up front with the offensive line, you can react accordingly and become a more productive back. I am seeing that this spring."
Wilson's vision for Green-Ellis this spring was to see him expand his game and become more of a "big play" threat.
"Last year, BenJarvus was very good between the tackles and as a power runner. In 2007, we want to see him develop into a guy who gets more big gainers," Frank said. "When he gets to the secondary, we want him to make a move and get in the clear. We've worked a lot of drills and watched a lot of NFL film on how to attack defenders at the second and third levels. BenJarvus is working hard on those attributes and I can see results. He has had some big runs this spring.
"Ben was a very good back for us last year, but I believe he will be a more complete back this year. I think he will exhibit more dimensions and more weapons in his arsenal. He is catching the ball well out of the backfield too."
Spring training for Hall encompassed giving him a complete advanced tutorial on being a running back. Bruce got the basics last year after being switched over to tailback from quarterback, but he needed fine-tuning, according to Wilson.
"We wanted to do a couple of things with Bruce. One, we wanted to teach him the finer points of being a complete running back – he kind of went on the basics a lot of last year. He had more time to really get down and learn the position this spring," Wilson noted. "Two, we wanted to check out his durability. Last year, he showed flashes of being a big-play guy, but we wanted to see if he can carry it 15-20 times in a game and run play 20 as hard as he ran on play 1. He showed he has good durability.
"Bruce has put on about 10 good pounds of muscle and he's gotten faster. He's had a real good spring – real good."
At that point, you might be expecting Frank to say "we've got a great 1-2 punch at tailback." Not so fast, my friends.
Wilson has also been highly-impressed with sophomore Cordera Eason in spring training.
"Cordera has had a great spring. He has really matured in the year he has been here," Frank stated. "He understands defenses now and he understands our blocking scheme. At times last year, due to his lack of knowledge of the system and lack of reps, he was sometimes just getting the ball and ramming it in the line of scrimmage. Now that he understands things more, he's gotten more patient and is becoming a lot more effective – optimizing each carry.
"Cordera had an outstanding offseason in the weight room and it shows. He's stronger now and is a downhill runner. I have been very, very pleased with his spring training."
Senior Hiram White is on board providing important depth and doing a good job on two or three special teams units.
"Hiram is a quality back who gives us needed depth, but where he excels is on special teams. He knows our schemes and is very valuable to us. He takes pride in being a good specialist and produces," Wilson added.
Before moving to the fullback position, a question immediately pops up. Hey, coach, are there are enough footballs to go around for the three TBs?
"All three will play next year. Ben is our feature back, but there will be plenty of opportunities for Bruce and Cordera. As coaches, it's our goal to put our best players on the field and those three are really good and can help us win," Frank explained. "They will all play and they will all get the ball. We'll make sure of that."
At fullback, it seems as if junior Jason Cook has been at Ole Miss for a long time. He's still got two years to go and is making strides and improvements every time a new campaign rolls around. This spring was no different.
"Jason is special to us. He's not only a leader on the field, he's a leader in everything he does – the class room, the weight room, whatever. He's very smart and very driven," Wilson assessed. "Did you realize when we got here Jason was a 230-pounder and he's now up to 250 and it's all good weight? He learned what it takes to perform in this league and has compensated accordingly. He knew he had to get bigger and stronger and he has. He's perfect for the schemes we are running and the things we are doing with our fullback."
One of last year's surprises was then true freshman Andy Hartmann, a walkon who had to take up the slack when Cook was injured. He did so admirably and continues to improve.
"Andy has not looked back or rested one minute. His goal was to get better and he's done it. He has followed Jason's lead in the weight room and has worked hard. He was a pleasant surprise last year and he continues to be a pleasant surprise," Frank said. "Andy does the right things all the time. He's done a good job in spring training and has set himself up for playing time."
Reggie Hicks redshirted last year and obviously benefited from it. His spring evaluation shows Wilson is impressed with his potential.
"Reggie has shown a lot of versatility this spring. We have gotten him the ball in space and he's making plays with it in his hands. He's done a real good job of catching the ball out of the backfield," Wilson evaluated. "He is working hard and will contribute in 2007. We feel we can do a lot of things with him and will explore all those avenues."
Another redshirt frosh learning his way is Derrick Davis.
"Derrick gives us quality depth at fullback. He has worked hard to come back from his high school injury and is starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel," Wilson closed. "Derrick just needs to keep working and developing."
Wilson has another walkon, Logan Walsh, working at fullback too.
"Logan is a try-hard kid who gives it what he's got," he closed. "He's a fine young man who is working hard. We'll see how he develops."
Running Back Overview: From our perspective, the running backs have to be considered a strength of the team. With proven work horse BJGE returning, an improved Bruce Hall back and a more mature Eason making waves, tailback should be considered at the very least solid, and probably well beyond that level. They did it once, they improved in spring – why not expect more? At fullback, if Cook can stay healthy, he may prove to be one of the better pure FBs in the league. Here's hoping he can get through a season – with the extra bulk and strength he has gained – to do just that. Good, solid deal here.
Red-Blue Reults: All spring, we have been aske "what's wrong with Cordera Eason?" As was clearly exhibited in the Grove Bowl, the answer is "nothing." The powerful sophomore ran for 104 yards on just 12 carries with a long of 32. He also scored a touchdown. Three things are obvious – he will figure heavily into next year's plans, the TB position will not have a dropoff when he's in the game and he will be the feature back of Ole Miss football in 2008 after BenJarvus and Bruce graduate. Nice "problem" Frank Wilson has. . . Bruce seems much more comfortable at tailback this year and seems to have gotten a little bigger. . . BenJarvus did not play in the Red-Blue – what's he got to prove? No need risking a crazy injury over a spring game. . . The Red Team tried Reggie Hicks at tailback. He is an imposing figure there, but the Blue Defense never seemed to let him get untracked. It seems as if he needs work on his movement. . . You can't help but like the way Hiram White plays the game of football. He gained 68 yards in the contest and scored a TD. He's a viable back, but his snaps will be limited due to the logjam at TB. He will be a force on special teams, however. . . FB Jason Cook is much man and backup Andy Hartmann is a throwback – one of those big bruisers who would rather run over someone than run around them. . . . Prior to the game, our opinion was that the RB slots would be a strength of the team. Nothing revealed in the Red-Blue Game changed that opinion.
Spring Review, Part V
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