Ole Miss coaches have been insisting throughout fall camp that the starting running back competition is an open race. The closer we get to the Sept. 1 kickoff in Houston, though, the more it sounds like Scottie Phillips is the guy.
You’ll be excused if you haven’t heard the name that much. Phillips, who spent the past two seasons at Jones County Junior College, has been on campus for less than six months. With last year’s workhorse Jordan Wilkins in the NFL and his primary backup, D’Vaughn Pennamon, set to miss at least half the season, Phillips has taken control of the Rebel backfield.
He entered fall camp listed above junior Eric Swinney on the depth chart. The pair has split time taking reps with the first team in practice, but there’s been no indication from the coaching staff that the hierarchy has changed.
“We knew [Phillips] was really physical and then when he got here and you learned he’s a blue collar, lunch-pail guy who goes to work and listens to whatever coach [Derrick] Nix tells him,” offensive coordinator Phil Longo told Rebel Grove. “The thing we waited to see in the spring is does he have that running ability to play here, and he does. I don’t think there was any doubt about Scottie once spring play was over.”
After topping 1,000 yards rushing in each of his two seasons at Jones County, Phillips was ranked the No. 2 JUCO running back prospect in the country and picked the Rebels over Miami, UConn and UAB. His highlight tape not only shows a guy with plenty of explosiveness and lateral quickness but, just as importantly for Longo’s run-heavy spread, a knack for scrounging tough yards up the middle. For every nifty side step there seems to be a lowered shoulder.
“He’s got a great one cut and downhill,” Ole Miss linebacker Zikkerion Baker told the Clarion-Ledger, “and once he gets in space he’s so fast he can break away from most people.”
The Rebels will need efficient production on the ground to set up what could be the most explosive passing attack in school history. Though Phillips ranked third among JUCO rushers with 123 yards per game last season, his 5.0 yards per carry placed 49th.
“We want to be efficient and you’d like to manufacture some explosive plays each game,” Longo told Rebel Grove. “I don’t care if we run it 10 times or run it 50 times. If you’re gaining five or six a pop then the defense has to respect it and work on a way to defend it. If we’re running it 50 times but gaining two yards a pop there’s no respect to the run game and they don’t have to add a guy. When you do it efficiently it creates conflict for opposing players and that’s what we want.”