Once the Rebel offense gained some momentum about midway through spring training, it was the same scenario day after day.
Invariably, almost every running back every day would make a substantial play or two.
Brandon Bolden catching a swing pass for 10 yards, Enrique Davis and Rodney Scott bulling their way for 8 or making one extra cut for 15, Derrick Herman and Korvic Neat hitting the smallest of creases for a big gainer using their speed and quickness, and last, but not least, Devin Thomas making his usual play a day that begs the question ‘where has this guy been?'
Running Backs Coach Derrick Nix has a tough job – defining the different roles for each in the fall and how to distribute playing time/carries. It's called options, and that's a good thing.
"I think we have progressed well this spring. I don't feel like we've taken a day off, which is what I wanted to see," said Nix. "We have the potential to be really good next year. What I have seen this spring is guys realizing what they are.
"We have guys with power, we have guys with speed, we have guys who are better catching the ball out of the backfield and guys who are better blocking. We are going to be right there next year, but it's critical we keep working through the offseason and summer."
The next step in the development progression is who can be trusted in different situations.
"Who can we count on when it's 3rd-and-one, 1st-and-ten, 4th and 1? Who can we hang our hat on and know they will get it done? We are still developing that toughness to become the best group in the nation, no matter who is carrying the ball or who is playing," Derrick explained.
At tailback, Nix begins his assessment with junior Brandon Bolden.
"I asked him to lose some weight and he's down to 211. His quickness has improved. Brandon is my jack of all trades. He has zero drops and 12 catches this spring, we have used him at tailback and fullback. He will make our position go. For us to have a big year next year, he has to have a big year," Nix said.
Sophomore Rodney Scott, a powerful runner, and junior Enrique Davis, who had a very good spring, are next.
"Rodney is a kid who hasn't been here a full year yet, but is developing well. He's probably our toughest runner, a tackle-breaker. He just needs to keep improving his hands and getting the protection part of his job down. He's going to be important to us next year," Derrick continued. "Enrique has gained some fire to his game this spring. He's done a tremendous job this spring and shown flashes of the brilliance of why we recruited him two years ago. He's worked his tail off and will be a key contributor next year. What we really like about him is that he now understands who he is and what his talents are. He's being Enrique – a downhill runner who breaks tackles and has some moves when he needs them. He's learned how to run the football to fit his skills."
(Scott's ankle injury early in the Red-Blue Game was considered minor. He should be fine by the time the summer offseason cranks up.)
Sophomore Devin Thomas is also in the mix, said Nix.
"Devin makes a play a day with limited reps," said Derrick. "He's dependable, he has zero assignment busts, he can protect, he can catch the ball and he can make a run for you. He's a true team guy, very unselfish. I hope he can earn a starting spot on a special team or two."
After him is a converted safety and a redshirt freshman, junior Derrick Herman and Korvic Neat, respectively.
"Derrick gets better and better every day in his transition. He has a presence to him with his quickness where he's a threat to get to point A to point B as quickly as anyone. He has a natural running ability and he can catch the ball. He's just now learning the position but he's showing a lot of good signs," Nix allowed.
"I'm very pleased with Korvic. He's so quick through the hole. He can catch the ball, run reverses and play wideout. As he continues to get stronger, I think he will be special for us."
At fullback, sophomore E.J. Epperson and sophomore H.R. Greer lead the pack.
"E.J. started slowly. He had to get his mentality back of smashing linebackers play after play. He has not been a fullback for a full year yet, so he's still learning the position. He has improved his hands and he's learning to roll. He's starting to get that mentality that the position and getting the key block is important," said Nix. "H.R. has had a good spring and has been surprising. He's improved so much mentally this spring and he's physical. He's going to contribute next year. He needs a big summer. Both, by the way, will play on special teams, I believe."
Greer is now weighing in at 222 pounds. His goal for the offseason is to be at 230 when August rolls around.)
RS frosh Justin Bigham is next followed by redshirt frosh Tyler King, both walk-ons.
"Justin is in his infancy in development, but he's always in the right place at the right time and he's probably going to figure in on special teams," noted Derrick. "Tyler is a physical kid who is working on his understanding of the position. He can also help on special teams, kickoff return in particular."
Converted DE Rodney Steen, a senior squad member, is also in the picture, as is redshirt freshman Will Rollins.
"Rodney is more of a hard-nosed, power type fullback. He's adjusting to the position, but he adds some physicality tour group. He's a work in progress, but I like his hammer attitude," Nix closed. "Rollins is also hard-nosed. He has the right heart and mind, but he needs to work on his speed in the offseason."
Analysis: This year more than ever, the Rebels have a bevy of very good, quality backs who can get the job done, but the burning questions are: who is the difference-maker and what roles will Nix define for each in the fall? Even though you have to like the numbers, the competition for carries will continue into fall and could change frequently. Will someone emerge head and shoulders above the others? Nobody did in spring, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.