Full Deck

Head coach Houston Nutt can never have enough running backs. With four potential candidates in his Ole Miss stable, the trend hasn't skipped the Oxford city limits. Read about it inside.

It's far too easy to recall the days of McFadden and Jones, but Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt has always been known as a collector of running backs.

While in Fayetteville, Nutt's Razorback teams led the SEC in rushing five of his last six years there. Even better, they ranked among the nation's top-15 five times.

In Nutt's first year in Oxford, the beat rolled on, as the run-heavy approach made the Ole Miss ground attack rise from one of the SEC's worst to one of the best. In 2008, the Rebels recorded their most rushing yards since 1990 and ranked second in the conference after ranking 11th just one year prior.

A large proponent to last season's successes was a four-headed monster featuring starter Cordera Eason, sophomore Brandon Bolden, all-purpose gem Dexter McCluster and sophomore Enrique Davis.

All mentioned return in 2009, with Devin Thomas also making a push for time in the Rebels' rotation.

"Brandon Bolden is listed as number one and he had an outstanding offseason," Nutt said before the spring. "Cordera Eason has lost 10 pounds and has looked quicker. Every back knows that first team doesn't mean much and could change in a minute. Enrique Davis has looked very quick in our workouts. He's lost a little weight and looks good.

"I love competition and you will see that. We are always going to need backs to help us establish the run game and be physical blockers. We are excited about our prospects."

But so far this spring, Nutt has expected more from his backs.

Saturday's scrimmage left plenty to be desired, with Nutt saying Monday he wants to see improved consistency with the Grove Bowl approaching.

"I was a little disappointed Saturday. Brandon Bolden was pretty good and Andy Hartmann did some good things, but the others didn't do as well as I had hoped," said Nutt. "Cordera and Enrique were inconsistent Saturday, but (Monday) they came back and had a good practice and made some nice runs.

"Our backs have to become more consistent. They have to stay focused and do the little things on every snap. They didn't Saturday, but they seemed to (Monday)."

Bolden, who blossomed in his freshman season after rushing for 542 yards on 98 carries and five touchdowns, has continued to cement his place as the team's starter late in spring drills.

The sophomore lost around 10 pounds in the offseason, helping with mobility as well as adding some additional burst to his already impressive arsenal.

"To me, I really haven't tried to separate myself," he said of running with the first team during spring drills. "We're a group of brothers like we said at the beginning. We go out and have fun.

"But like Coach Nutt said, he's going to try and find the best man on the field. For him to say that about me – I don't see anything special I've done this spring. I just came out here and went to work."

RB coach Derrick Nix believes Bolden's experience from last season has helped immensely.

"As of right now, I think he's having an excellent spring," said Nix. "He's used last season as a spring board. He's come back quicker, stronger and with a little bit of an attitude. Through these practices, he's done a really good job."

Bolden also credits his contributions over the frosh campaign in helping build his confidence for the spring.

"The game has slowed down a little bit," Bolden said. "Out here, it seems a little slow. I might go back over there and ask if I was a little slow on that play, but after I watch film, it looked like I hit it faster than ever. Last year really helped me."

The move to starter wasn't a total surprise for Bolden, but Eason ran with the first unit for most of last season.

Now a senior, Eason has had trouble in his lateral movement, sometimes tripping himself up both literally and figuratively. He's shown promise, but like Davis, struggles with hole recognition and pass blocking.

However, Nix said the two should be fine with additional reps.

"I don't know, per se, if it's anything they're having a problem with. Sometimes things just don't go right," he said. "A back has to anticipate someone making a block and have to make that cut. Sometimes you make it, sometimes you don't. But whatever happens, you have to go back to the huddle and try again."

One name who has garnered praise almost every practice is Thomas.

Currently running second behind Bolden, the sophomore has shown no ill-effects from a foot injury suffered during his senior year of high school. Thomas was sidelined for the last six games of that year, with three screws inserted in the foot.

Now fully healthy, Thomas is taking advantage.

"He's having a really good spring," said Nutt. "He was just awarded a high academic honor and he's running with his eyes and taking care of the ball."

While Nutt would like to see more effectiveness out of his running backs, the unit is easily one of the deepest on the team.

Their expected production is of little concern for the staff; as such a strong stable of runners should help lead a potent Ole Miss offense come fall.

"We lost some really key guys, but we're coming," Bolden said. "It's going to be a snow ball effect. We've started off small, but it will come eventually. The defense is ahead of us right now, but they didn't lose as many key guys as we did in our group. So we're coming."

OM Spirit Top Stories