The second in our long series of off-season posts on the football team's roster comes with analysis of the halfbacks on the team this Fall. There may be some we don't discuss, but we will hit all the major possible contributors.
One area that's really up-in-the-air is halfback. We've got a likely starter in Jeff Scott (who hasn't shown an ability to be more than a change of pace back), but after that it's anyone's game in the Rebel backfield. Obviously, it's imperative that we find a dependable back who we can give the ball to in tough situations and rely on to get us tough yards. We at the Cup don't necessarily feel we need an every down guy, but we will need someone who is versatile. We need someone who can run, catch, show quickness, move between the tackles - so, basically, a healthy Brandon Bolden.
First, let's talk about what we know we have coming back.
Junior Jeff Scott is a somewhat proven back who averaged 4.6 yards per carry last year after averaging 6.5 the year prior (with quick-footed Jeremiah Masoli and an effective read-option). He's undersized but possesses elite speed and is pretty shifty. He does not run between the tackles particularly well. Considering this, we could see him being quite successful in Hugh Freeze's offense out of a read-option setup. Of course he could also fail, but we do feel this offense will best utilize his strengths. We will try to get him the ball in space a lot and see if he can make something happen with a big gain. To his advantage in this system will be Scott's catching ability, which is surprisingly unheralded for how reliable he can be in that role (he caught 15 passes last year out of the backfield). For an offense that is unlikely to be steady and consistent, a few big plays a game from Jeff Scott would be pretty helpful.
From all accounts Scott has gotten a grip on the academic issues that had him on the edge of failing out of school at the end of the season. I expect him to be our leading rusher with a few highlight runs and a few that leave us saddened.
More after the jump.
Senior Devin Thomas has succeeded in many a Grove Bowl only to see little to no action on the football field during the season. An Army All-American in high school, it's obvious that the leg and knee injuries that forced Thomas to redshirt were something that drastically altered his career. He doesn't show much burst but still does have seemingly good vision. Though he's undersized, I could see him getting goal-line touches because he may be able to find holes. I also wonder how well he would work on swings and outs in the passing game.
Really, it's about time Devin got himself a touchdown in a Rebel uniform. The guy is a hard worker and a truly great student athlete. It's frustrating, as a fan and alumnus of Ole Miss, to see him on the sidelines.
Sophomore Nick Parker lost weight and drew strong early reviews from Freeze. He seemingly disappeared towards the end of the Spring though, and I don't have high hopes for him to do a lot this year. He just runs a little too high and doesn't have good speed. He is also a bit tall for a halfback and perhaps has a body size more akin to that of an H-Back than an actual halfback.
Senior Randall Mackey is an interesting piece to this puzzle. After moving over from the quarterback position this Spring, Mackey didn't make much noise in practice reports. Then in the Grove Bowl, he threw two touchdown passes off of sweeps where he got the ball with the option to run or pass. It would be interesting to see us do some of that semi-regularly in the season. We're not sure how much he'll actually play, but he does provide us with the opportunity to run some gimmicks that can keep defenses honest. He's athletic and talented enough to line up at quarterback, halfback, or as a receiver, but our guess is that he'll see most of his time in the slot (OR IN THE WiLd ReBeL!1).
Then there's sophomore Tobias Singleton. You know, he did line up a lot in the backfield or as a wildcat during his Madison Central High School days, so maybe the guy could be a valuable asset to the team. Still, we see his role primarily in special teams and not as a regular part of the offense.
Former Memphis Ridgeway star Jaylon Walton was one of Hugh Freeze's more sought-after recruits during his first class in Oxford. He is an all-purpose back who is the next, next, next Dexter McCluster, so to speak. He is listed at 5'8" and around 165 pounds. Unless he adds fifteen pounds in the next couple of months, we don't see him working his way into any sort of significant role on the offense unless there's something that he's got that we simply haven't yet seen. He could play a role in punt and kickoff returns, though.
I'Tavius Mathers, though, is a guy that we expect to see early and often in the Rebel rotation in the backfield. A former four-star prospect out of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, Mathers is a six foot, 190 pound every down back with reportedly good hands and vision. The Rebels don't have a back with both Mathers' size and speed (reported 4.5 second 40-yard dash) in the depth chart, meaning that he could see a good deal of time in a multitude of situations offensively. If Mathers can stay healthy and live up to potential, he could be the go-to guy for the Rebels on offense in just a couple of seasons.