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Swinney Emracing Leadership Role Among Rebel Running Backs

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When Eric Swinney looks around the running back group meeting room, he can quickly see he's now the oldest guy in the room. That comes a leadership role he's beginning to embrace.

He's now taken it upon himself to mentor some of the younger running backs that Matt Luke has been bullish on throughout spring ball.

"It's different taking on a leadership role," Swinney said. "I am trying to help the new guys out like Isaiah and Armani (Linton), even Scottie. Telling them to study the playbook, get in the film room and getting the calls even when they are not on the field."


Luke said after practice on Tuesday the two biggest surprises of the spring have been newcomers Isaiah Woullard and junior college transfer Scottie Phillips. Swinney tends to agree with his head coach.


"They're learning the system really fast and making plays, man. Isaiah is quick an strong. Scottie is making big time plays and they're going to do well for us," Swinney said.

Swinney's a guy who's endured a pair of catastrophic leg injuries, the second coming on his first touch in game action after surviving the first in the Rebels' 2016 season opener against Florida State. It forced him to sit out a second straight college season.

Last year, Swinney finally got back onto the field, carrying the football 41 times for 195 yards. It was a start, and more importantly, Swinney began to feel like his old self again.


"I am not really adjusting to it, but I feel like I am getting back to myself a little bit when I am out there," Swinney said.

He says he's put on more weight and has become a more deliberate back as a result of the injuries. Aside from that, he doesn't feel any major lingering effects anymore. He's healthy again.

"Everything feels like it has balanced out," Swinney said. "My body is feeling great. I am taking care of myself. Just learning how to take care of my body has really helped me."

Swinney's enjoyed seeing some newcomers emerge around him. Between he and D'Vaughn Pennamon, he hopes this team will begin to compile some depth in the backfield. Phillips and Woullard's emergence will only add to that.

"We're working well together," Swinney said. "We're competing out there just working every day and getting in the film room. We're trying to make this team better."

Ole Miss is now on the back end of of spring practice as the culmination nears with the Grove Bowl in two weeks. The Rebels are banged up and have held some guys out of practice as a precaution. It's allowed some of the younger players to get more reps, like Ben Brown on the offensive line. He's been working with the first team the last couple of days.

"It helps out a lot," Brown said. "It's a lot faster paced for sure. There are a lot of very talented players. I am just happy to be getting the reps."

Brown got adjusted to the speed of the college game as a freshman last year as he redshirted and the coaching staff is hopeful he will be a contributor this fall to pad the offensive line depth with the departure of Daronte Bouldin and Rod Taylor. Depth up front helped the Rebels battle some attrition on the offensive line last season and kept the running game afloat late in the season.

"I feel really prepared," Brown said. "Getting to learn from the older guys has been a big time help."

A Closer Look: Running Backs

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This is the first of a 10-part position-by-position series looking back at the 2017 season, as well as previewing what lies ahead for Ole Miss football in 2018.

Top Performer: Jordan Wilkins (155 carries, 1,011 rushing yards (6.5 avg.), nine rushing TDs, 26 receptions, 241 receiving yards, one receiving TD)

Returning in 2018: D'Vaughn Pennamon [injured] (Jr., 2L), Eric Swinney (Jr., 2L), D.K. Buford (Sr., 3L), KeShun Wells (Jr., SQ)

Newcomers in 2018: Scottie Phillips (So., Jones County JC, Mid-Year Enrollee), Isaiah Woullard (Fr., Mid-Year Enrollee)

Losing from 2017 Team: Jordan Wilkins (Graduation), Eugene Brazley (Graduation)

Looking Back at 2017: Running the football was an issue for Ole Miss in the first month of the season and Phil Longo's offense struggled to gel as a result.

But as the Rebels got deeper into the season -- and got past the likes of Alabama and Auburn on their schedule -- the team found a way to resurrect the running game. Ole Miss rushed the football for 380 yards on 132 attempts in its first five games of the season last year. Over the final seven games of the season, the Rebels ran for 1,227 yards on 238 touches that was good for 5.15 yards per carry.

There were a number of factors that contributed to this. It naturally took some time for Longo to find out what calls worked best with his personnel. Some of it was simply the opposing run defenses Ole Miss faced in the back end of its schedule. Some of it was Jordan Ta'amu stepping in at quarterback when Shea Patterson went down with an injury. The offense became more cohesive with Ta'amu and it was clear his decision making in the running and passing game helped out. A lot of it was just how good Jordan Wilkins was for the Rebels down the stretch. Wilkins ran for 1,011 yards in his final season as a Rebel on 155 carries and scored nine times. He battled through a painful planter fascia injury in his foot and was key in helping Ole Miss find some semblance of balance in an offense loaded with receiving talent on the perimeter.

As a team, Ole Miss' 2017 running game as a whole could be labeled successful. The team rushed for 1607 yards, good for 4.3 yards per carry and 19 touchdowns. Wilkins was the first 1,000-yard rusher since Dexter McCluster in 2009.

Looking Ahead to 2018: It begs the question: What will the Rebels look like at this position next year? With an offense that hinges on run-pass-options, it is certainly an important one. The departure of Wilkins is a big loss. There's no getting around that given that he accounted for 41 percent of the team's carries and 62 percent of the yards. The Rebels also lose a speedy back in Eugene Brazley, who was used sparingly last year and tallied only six touches. Ole Miss does bring back D'Vaughn Pennamon and Eric Swinney-- essentially carried what was left of the rushing workload behind Wilkins. Pennamon carried the football 53 times for 227 yards while Swinney ran 41 times for 209 yards. Both were pretty highly regarded recruits coming out of high school, but have not yet been asked to shoulder much of the weight of the running game yet in their careers.

Pennamon suffered a leg injury against Texas A&M and his timeline for returning is not clear. Swinney is no stranger to injuries himself. This was his first healthy season in Oxford after enduring two catastrophic knee injuries the previous two seasons. Matt Luke and his staff were able to reel in the top junior college running back in the country in Scott Phillips, who signed in the December signing period and is expected to contribute next fall. Phillips, who is a mid-year enrollee, ran for 1,122 yards on 222 carries at Jones Country Junior College last season and Ole Miss is hoping he will get acclimated to the division one level quickly.

This trio is who Ole Miss will primarily look to replace the productions Wilkins gave them. There isn't a lot of experience between them, but Pennamon and Swinney do have 115 carries between them in their careers and have a couple years of experience in the program. Phillips is a talented, powerful back at 5-foot-9, 205 pounds. The Rebels have some intriguing options to fill the void Wilkins leaves, but it is undoubtedly a big one at that.

A Closer Look:
- Running Backs (Jan. 8)
- Quarterbacks (Jan. 9)
- Wide Receivers (Jan. 10)
- Tight Ends (Jan. 11)
- Offensive Line (Jan. 15)
- Defensive Line (Jan. 16)
- Linebackers (Jan. 17)
- Cornerbacks (Jan. 18)
- Safeties (Jan. 19)
- Special Teams (Jan. 22)

Football Signees Report for Summer Classes

Although they will not begin competing for the Rebels until the fall, several members of the 2015 signing class have arrived at Ole Miss to begin their college journey this summer.

The first of two summer sessions offered at the University of Mississippi began Wednesday.

Among the players who made up the top-20 nationally ranked 2015 Ole Miss signing class and have arrived on campus are prep All-American wide receivers Van Jefferson and DaMarkus Lodge, as well as highly rated running back Eric Swinney and tight end Willie Hibbler. On the other side of the ball, signees like DBs Montrell Custis, Armani Linton and Cameron Ordway look to make an impact for the Landshark defense.

Fall classes begin August 24.

Below are the 2015 newcomers who have enrolled in the first summer session. There could be additions to this list within the next week.

Montrell Custis
Ross Donelly
Alex Givens
Willie Hibbler
Michael Howard
Van Jefferson
Armani Linton
DaMarkus Lodge
Cameron Ordway
Jason Pellerin
Austrian Robinson
Eric Swinney
Zedrick Woods
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    Tiffany J. Moore said:

    This is amazing with what he have done so far! Hope that he'll achieve more in the future!

    in post Evan Engram Hauls in Midseason Accolades

    Fiftyyears fan said:

    How can you have five straight top 25 recruiting classes and look as bad as Ole Miss has this year. Easy lack of coaching fundamentals. Look at Mason at Vandy, nothing but 2 and 3 star recruits out of high school and he developers players that want to win. Hugh freeze has 3, 4 & 5 recruits and he expects them to win because of what they were in High School. Mr. Freeze you have not been teaching the fundamentals of football or winning in life. Mr. Freeze you have quit on your players because you have some false expectations of what they are instead of what you can develop in them. Either do your job or quit. Oh yea, please quit running your smoke and mirrors offense, everyone has figured it out. Run a physical offense that can open up holes for your running backs and then your pass attack want require 12 are 14 four and five star receivers. Mr. Freeze you have problems and you need to know that you are not smarter than the rest of the coaches in the SEC.

    in post Rebels Unable to Send Senior Class Out on a High Note

    Karen Holden said:

    Not every pass can be caught. Too low, too short whatever. Not every Kelly pass is perfect. Records were broken by receivers also. But they sre not going to catch every ball thrown. The loss to Auburn was not one players fault. You win or lose as a team.

    in post Late Mistake Spoils Chad Kelly's Historic Performance

    Trent browning said:

    Hey I was just wandering if these are the only 2 olemiss players signing. If there are more signing please respond to me ASAP. Also wondering if neil everett will sign any autographs. Thank you very much

    in post Heisman House Tour Heads to Oxford for Ole Miss-Georgia

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