(This is the fourth article in a series interviewing each of the assistant football coaches about spring training.)
Running Backs Coach Derrick Nix has worked as much on the RBs attitudinally as he has physically this spring.
To him, it's all about a mindset and the mindset is to win.
"The running backs have done well as a unit. The things I have stressed are learning to finish plays, how to play 100% every snap and how to develop a winning attitude," Nix, a former big time back himself, began. "Every time we are on the field, we want to score. I'm instilling that in every drill and every rep. I want them to believe in themselves and not settle for anything less than getting it done.
"You have to play with an attitude and a confidence on this level and the way to learn that is to be strong-minded and never giving in. You have to have that mindset and that's what we focused on in spring training."
The fullbacks are being led, as expected, by senior Jason Cook, who will be going into his fourth year as a starter.
"He's a joy to coach. He can block, catch the ball out of the backfield, run the ball and he's smart and hard-nosed. Every running back in America should have a Jason Cook," said Nix. "Next is junior Andy Hartmann, who is a lot like Jason in terms of being hard-nosed. He's an old school fullback. He doesn't mind bloodying his nose, he likes contact and he can also catch the ball out of the backfield. Those two are also kids who take care of the business off the field as well. Jason and Andy give us a solid 1-2 at fullback, which is good to have."
Freshman Andrew Stuart and redshirt freshman Dan Hoffman round out the fullback candidates. (Hoffman hurt his knee two weeks ago and is out for now.)
"Those are good kids who try hard and are learning the position. They don't mind mixing it up and are doing a good job for us, they just need to keep developing," Nix added. "Reggie Hicks was with us for some of spring, but he's now moved to tight end."
At tailback, junior Cordera Eason, after two years of watching BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Bruce Hall get 99% of the playing time, is finally getting his shot to be the premiere back in the offense.
"Cordera was highly-regarded out of high school but has not played much since then. He's been a workhorse in spring," Derrick assessed. "Cordera has done everything I have asked of him. He's learning to run with a little better pad level and he's securing the football better now.
"The thing I like about Cordera is that he's big enough where he can pass protect and he's shown he has enough speed to get outside or to take it all the way if he gets in the open. He had a productive spring."
Sophomore Derrick Davis, who was at fullback most of last year, has moved in behind Eason at TB.
"Derrick is doing very well. He's very intelligent and he's willing to do whatever you ask of him," Derrick said. "He needs to keep working on his movement in the offseason, but he will help us next year."
A pair of walkons round out the "regular" tailbacks – Markus Crockett and Jermaine Johnson.
"Markus has shown good movement and quickness. J.J. is more of a power back. Both did a nice job for us in spring. We're glad to have them," said Nix. "Both need to learn the zone scheme but they made strides in spring."
Every so often, Nix has also utilized Dexter McCluster at tailback in the I formation. He has also been the trigger man in the "Wild Rebel" set, receiving snaps from the center out of the shotgun.
"That young man puts a smile on my face," said Derrick. "He's a guy you can't take off the field. He's a guy who can play wide receiver, tailback, running the Wild Rebel. He gives you a dimension of having a home run threat at any time in any situation," Nix closed. "If you look at his size, you wouldn't think it, but he's tough enough to break tackles and he makes guys miss in the hole. We are very excited to have him mixed in the running back mix."
Overall, the running backs have been solid. Cordera has shown he can be a featured back and Cook is arguably one of the most underrated players in the SEC. What will be interesting will be the impact of the RBs who were signed in February – Enrique Davis, Devin Thomas and Brandon Bolden. The Rebels need a bit more pure speed in the backfield and the belief is those three can provide that element.
In the Grove Bowl, Eason had 108 yards on just seven carries. He ripped off two TD runs of over 40 yards each. McCluster had five totes for 35 yards. On the Red Team, walkon Marcus Crockett had 37 yards on 11 carries.
Running Backs -
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