Hugh Freeze has been on the job for eight months now. His team is readying to open fall camp, with the first practice set for Saturday.
One thing we've learned about Freeze over these many weeks and months is he's not one to shy away from the mess he inherited. Rather, he's been brutally honest when discussing the depth concerns of his roster, academic issues and the beast of a schedule his team faces in 2012.
The questions have become somewhat repetitive. It's what happens this time of year, especially in Hoover, Ala., where Freeze held court with national press for the first time as Ole Miss head coach a few weeks ago.
And one question he's faced over and over, and will continue to face, is at running back. He has his hands full.
(An aside: I swore Tuesday I wouldn't refer to former Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt (I did it again!) in my stories anymore. I mean, it just seems tired at this point. For this story, however, it's next to impossible. Here's a compromise. From this point forward, he'll simply be known as The Dude.)
Amazing, isn't it? The Dude was a renowned quarterback killer. But there was little doubting his ability to develop quality running backs, including such names as Darren McFadden, Dexter McCluster and Felix Jones. A running back or two always found their way into each February signing class.
Yet, here Ole Miss is, heading into the 2012 season with the position The Dude built his career around mired in uncertainty, save for junior Jeff Scott, who Freeze told me in June was quickly becoming a leader on the team.
If Freeze had it his way, at least one player would emerge this fall and push Scott. Competition breeds productivity. Scott is all to himself right now, and while he's made strides in the maturity department, he'd do well to have another capable back pushing him. If I had to guess, I'd say freshman I'tavius Mathers, who we'll get to in a minute, will ultimately be the guy.
Scott has always struggled with consistency, and I'm not just talking about football here. Of all the players on the roster, you'd be hard-pressed to find another under more pressure than the small but dynamic Scott, who led the team in rushing for an offense that floundered far more often than it succeeded last season.
Freeze never called him by name when he was hired, but it was pretty much common knowledge that Scott was one of the players in serious academic trouble. He had work to do to get his grades in order to gain eligibility this fall. Fair or not, there were questions if he could. He'd developed a reputation as a player with a less-than-stellar work ethic over his first two seasons, both on and off the field, and his performances on Saturday, while sometimes electric, lacked in -- honk if you've heard this before -- anything close to resembling consistency.
That all changed in the spring. Unlike others with academic shortcomings, Scott didn't miss a single practice. He was there for all 15, and he took the lion's share of the snaps with the first-team at running back. This is his year. Brandon Bolden is gone, as is Enrique Davis, though his loss isn't really noteworthy. Scott has to perform. He has no choice, really.