Finding a Niche

With so many talented backs on the Rebel roster, it's natural for one to perhaps be overlooked. But through his performance over spring practice, sophomore Devin Thomas has carved a place in Ole Miss' plans offensively. Read about it inside.

All throughout spring practice, focus was set on the many talented running backs Ole Miss has to offer in 2009.

Sophomore Brandon Bolden, a stabilizing force throughout April, emerged as the team's top rusher. Cordera Eason battled through consistency issues, but does hold an edge over other backs after starting 12 of 13 games a year ago. Sophomore Enrique Davis continues to transition to the collegiate level, but possesses great potential.

But despite the production from others in front of him, perhaps no running back made a bigger impression than sophomore Devin Thomas.

"I've been working hard ever since the beginning of last year," Thomas said. "I knew coming into the spring that if I wanted a chance to play, I'd have to go hard every day and stay consistent like Coach Nutt always says. I'm just trying to find my role on the team."

After rushing for 63 yards on two carries Saturday, his role is surely set to expand.

Last season was a bit difficult for Thomas. He entered college at a disadvantage, having missed the last six games of his high school senior season with an ankle injury.

Thomas said a plate and seven screws were inserted into the ankle, making the transition that much more difficult.

"It affected me at first, but now my ankle is getting used to it," said Thomas of the progress made in his surgically repaired ankle. "It did affect me last year, especially when it got cold. I could always feel (the screws). But they're getting better now."

And so is Devin.

With every rep received during spring training, Thomas proved his worth. Displaying good speed and strong burst in-and-out of cuts, the sophomore's stock began to rise.

All onlookers began to take notice – especially head coach Houston Nutt.

"I think he can," Nutt said when asked if Thomas could find a niche in next year's offense. "He needs to come right back where he left off in spring in two-a-days. If he does, there will be a role for him."

But what type of role remains to be seen.

While he ran behind Bolden for a large portion of the spring, Thomas will face stiff competition between Eason and Davis for minutes in the backfield rotation.

However, Nutt likes to find the hot-hand in games, so every Rebel runner is expected to get looks.

"I just want to get a chance to play," said Thomas. "Even being first string, you still need a second, third and fourth string running back just in case anything happens. I'm just trying to get a chance at some playing time. Whatever I have to do, I'm going to do."

Thomas said the backs haven't let the spirited battle for PT get the better of them.

"We're like a band of brothers," he said. "Whenever somebody does something good, the other one wants to go out and show how good of a back they are. It's a friendly competition and we enjoy it."

With Thomas now making a push, however, the competition just got a little more interesting.

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