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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."

Rebels Return to Spring Practice

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Ole Miss returned to the practice field after a week-long hiatus during spring break. The Rebels are now in the second half of spring football, culminating with the Grove Bowl on April 7.

"There may have been a couple of mistakes from the layoff, but the energy was good," head coach Matt Luke said of the team's return to the field. "I thought they were physical. They had good session with weights yesterday to kind of get back into the swing of things and I thought it was a good practice."

Luke was bullish on two positions in particular, the running backs and the linebackers, two spots the Rebels have holes to fill from departures from the 2017 team and also two positions with some of new faces that will need to contribute next season. He was pleased with how the linebackers have been playing downhill against the run and the consistency of their reads.

"I really like that they're taking on Coach Sumrall's personality and playing physical," Luke said. "I saw a couple of physical plays that I haven't been seeing. Them playing down hill against the run and being physical. Josh Clarke made a really good play blowing up a play in the hole. There are some really good things going on, but obviously a long way to go and plenty to improve on."

On the other side of the football - one of the positions the linebackers have been tasked with neutralizing - Luke had high praise for newcomer Scottie Phillips at running back before the team departed for spring break. He hasn't changed his tune since on the the number one junior college running back in the country.


"I was cautiously optimistic before they got there but now, Scottie broke another long run towards the end of practice. We are really really pleased with them," Luke said.

The Armini Linton project at running back took a small setback as he's been dealing with a hamstring injury. But Luke and the staff saw enough of the former defensive back to feel confident about keeping him on the offensive side of the football for the foreseeable future. Linton played running back in high school. While the concept isn't completely foreign, he's using the spring to learn the playbook and various blocking and running reads.


The Rebels return D'Vaughn Pennamon and Eric Swinney at this position, two guys who have game experience and a decent bit of SEC touches. Luke knows what he as in them. He wants to use spring ball to see what guys like Phillips and Isaiah Woullard bring to the table, as well as the newly-transformed Linton.

"They have to keep coming," Luke said. "They've made some mistakes but they keep coming along. Swinney has been solid. He knows what to do. We want to see some of those new guys."

Ole Miss has a number of guys banged up through offseason surgeries and the natural attrition that comes in the football offseason. It's allowing other guys to get more reps in practice as the Rebels attempt to build depth next fall. Tight end Octavious Cooley is a one player who has benefitted from increase practice time with Dawson Knox being sidelined with a foot injury.


"Looks like he has his weight in check and looks like he is in the best shape he has been in since he has been here," Luke said. "That has really helped him become more consistent by not just making one good play, but several in a row. We are really pleased with that."

Luke envisioned possibly playing Cooley and Knox at the same time next season.


"It gives us the flexibility to play some 12 personnel with he and Dawson out there at the same time. It is really exciting to see him playing the way he is," Luke said.

The same is true on the defensive line with Benito Jones and Qaadir Sheppard nursing injuries. None of the injuries will affect guys going into fall camp, so the staff is framing it as a positive in the sense that they can focus on getting younger players ready to contribute next fall.

"It's the same thing with Ross (Donelly) and Sincere (David)," Luke said. "They are getting more reps than they've ever gotten before and it's making them better. It will get us depth when Benito (Jones) and Qaadir (Sheppard) come back. It will just make us better."

Spring Practice Rolls On For Ole Miss

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Ole Miss is now knee deep into spring ball and endured its fifth practice on Wednesday afternoon. Head coach Matt Luke says he has been pleased with the development of some the younger players in the early stagesof spring ball.

"The energy has been good," Luke said. "A lot of young guys have gone out there and shown the willingness to take coaching. That is really what I am looking for is to see who will step up. Which one of the young guys is going going to step up and play for us. Who of the older guys are going to step up and lead us? These are the things I am looking for."

The coaching staff has gotten its first glimpse of four-star quarterback Matt Corral over the last week. Luke says he's shown flashes and the talent is definitely there. It is about the consistency that welcome as he gets more acclimated to college football.

"He's been good," Luke said. "Maybe a little inconsistent through four days, but he should be in high school right now, so for him to be out there running the offense with the number two's is great. He has gone out there and made some really good plays and really good throws. A lot of it is installing the offense and there is a learning process there."

Corral has made a couple of complex reads and identified coverages well, which has allowed him to show the strength of his arm.

"The arm is really good," Luke said. "He is really talented. He can make all of the throws and has really good arm strength. It is can he be consistent? He has done well so far."

Defensively, Luke said he has been pleased with the linebackers, arguably the most important position for the Rebels to develop in the spring and into the fall.

"They're eager to learn and I thin they know everyone is watching them and their development. I think they have a chip on their shoulder and I like that about the group right now. They are making process and trying to get each other better," Luke said.

Detric Bing-Dukes and Willie Hibbler have been running with the first team, but the competition has been heating up.

"We need some size in the box," Luke said. "We need to be physical there. There is a lot of competition. Sanogo has been coming on strong. I have been really pleased with him."

The biggest surprise to Luke so far? Running backs Isaiah Woullard and junior college transfer Scottie Phillips.

"To me they have really flashed in the first four days," Luke said. "Those guys have hit a couple creases and have been really impressive."

The team has had the luxury of continuity in the sense that the same coordinators are still here and the same systems are in place. Its made installing packages easier as guys have retained information easier and made things room more smoothly.

"There is a lot of retention," Luke said. "Your day one install is actually probably three days worth of install compared to last spring just because there has been so much carryover. That is a positive."

The Rebels will be off at the end of this week through next week and will return the week after for nine more practices leading into The Grove Bowl.

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)

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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.

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    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

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