The Elder Statesman

Ole Miss junior tailback Brandon Bolden went through a lot in the 2009 season - some good, some not up to his expectations. Now, as spring training rapidly approaches, he's ready to find out what life in the Rebel backfield is going to be like without Dexter McCluster. Read about it inside.

Brandon Bolden is entering his third year as an Ole Miss running back, but he's the returning "elder" in the Rebel backfield in regards to age and playing time.

The past two years, the RBs have taken their direction from the likes of Jason Cook, Andy Hartmann and Dexter McCluster.

Now, Bolden will have to take what some might consider a premature role in leadership, usually reserved for seniors.

"It's a big challenge. Those guys were great leaders and performers who got results. I've got the most game experience in the backfield and Coach (Houston) Nutt has asked me to step up and be a leader. It's a challenge, but I will do my best," said Bolden.

First, however, everyone in the backfield has to get over the shock, so to speak, of being McCluster-less and Hartmann-less.

"It's going to be tough, but it's something we are going to have to get through. Our makeup is different. We have a bunch of power backs now. We'll be different, but I think we'll be effective," he stated.

Bolden has made a transition with his body this spring. He played most of last year around 220 pounds. He wanted to lose some weight in the offseason and has done that.

"I'm down to 211 pounds now. I feel a lot faster and quicker," said Bolden. "Coach (Don) Decker has timed me and my speed has improved quite a bit at this weight and I am just as strong."

Bolden knows the competition this spring is going to be stiff.

"Rodney (Scott), most definitely, is having a great offseason. Enrique (Davis) is coming along very well and is working on his pass blocking technique. Devin Thomas will be excellent if he can stay healthy," Bolden assessed. "Korvic Neat will have to take on some of Dexter's role, playing both tailback and in the slot.

"Everyone has a chance to play. The coaches may even decide to put Tig (Barksdale) back there in the long haul. I am real confident in the players we have back there. We have a great competition going where everyone stays motivated. You can't let up or you will lose your spot."

Bolden has also been watching the young quarterbacks closely. He knows how they do will determine a lot toward the development of the offense and as a consequence the running backs.

"I don't know what this offense will evolve into - it's kind of a mystery right now, but I've been watching the QBs throw and they are doing a nice job," said Bolden. "They are working hard and competing. We are doing our best to give them our best look and catch everything they throw to help them with their confidence and make them more comfortable before spring gets here.

"Both Nathan Stanley and Raymond Cotton are looking real good. Ray has improved his accuracy and Nate has been working on his long ball. Both are making progress. They are excited working hard because they know they have a chance to be the man this year."

Bolden wants to put away parts of the 2009 season. He mentioned to the media three or four games into the season that he had lost his abandon that was so visible his true freshman year in 2008.

"It seemed like I lost touch with who I was as a freshman. I pulled my hamstring and I let it get to me. Then I banged up my knee a little and I let it get to me," he explained. "I think I turned things around toward the end of the year and everything is back to normal and good now."

Last season, with Dex giving the TB slot a major shot in the arm, Brandon worked some at fullback in the latter stages of the season.

"I'm a team player. Wherever the coaches ask me to play, that is where I will play and I will do my best," he stated. "I just want to be on the field. Position doesn't matter."

Some felt Brandon may try to bulk up to meet the demands of splitting time at TB and FB, but it hasn't worked that way to this point.

At 211 pounds, a move to a true fullback role is highly unlikely, but the Reb coaches could employ split back sets or do a variety of things with Bolden, one of the better pass blockers on the squad and an excellent receiver out of the backfield.

"Like I said, it's a mystery to us right now. All I know is that we can't wait to get started and see how it all pans out," he closed.

The elder statesman of the Rebel backfield has spoken.

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