Ole Miss junior tailback Brandon Bolden went through a lot in the 2009 season - some good, some not…
Where will the magic come from?
The first half of the 2009 season, the Ole Miss running game was adequate, enough to keep defenses honest, but not enough to add the kind of spark needed in that aspect of the game. After much consternation, the Rebel coaches went against their earlier thinking of trying to protect dynamic playmaker Dexter McCluster by inserting him into full time tailback duty. The results were startling. Dynamic. Electric. Effective. Dexter ended up breaking the 1,000 yard rushing barrier and the Rebs ended up with another 9-4 season. News flash - Dexter's gone. Now, as spring training 2010 rapidly approaches, most of Rebel persuasion are wondering who will pick up #22's torch and provide the needed spark to light the fire of the run game to a level required in the SEC. There are certainly several qualified candidates, but who will separate themselves from the pack and prove to be the playmaker the coaches will be searching for? You'd have to start with junior Brandon Bolden, the starter the first several games of 2009. There is no question Bolden is a quality, well-rounded back. He's versatile enough to play fullback and tailback, he's got excellent hands, his speed is good and he's a tough back, but for some reason his playmaking capabilities have not surfaced as anticipated. Bolden's quest this spring is to prove he can get yards on his own, i.e., beyond what is there that "most" backs could get on a similarly-blocked play. Make someone miss, break a tackle, get a couple of yards after contact. In other words, Bolden needs to gain back the abandon that won him the job in the first place but seemed to dissipate during the 2009 campaign. Will he be used in a dual role of FB and TB again? TBD - to be determined, but it's likely he will get first shot at proving he can be the playmaker the Rebel run game needs. Junior Enrique Davis spent most of last season with nagging injuries, which limited his effectiveness and playing time. A healthy year is a must for Davis, who had some very good Cotton Bowl practices and hopes to carry that over to the spring. Enrique knows he needs to show the recruiting hype he got as a prep schooler out of Hargrave was justified. In the offseason, his goal will be to continue to work on his flexibility and lateral movement. It's time for his immense potential to surface. Sophomore Rodney Scott impressed the Rebel coaches enough during the season to elevate him into the playing rotation ahead of senior Cordera Eason and a hobbling Davis. While he didn't get the opportunities to show his prowess in games too much after the move with Dexter, Scott unleashed a nice skill set in practice sessions, showing good vision, a low center of gravity which translated into power and the ability to break tackles, and enough speed to make big plays. Scott has a knack for making the right moves to daylight and the tenacity to attack would-be tacklers rather than being on the receiving end of the hit. Sophomore Devin Thomas will be interesting to watch as well. It's been stated, by him, this could be a make-or-break, for lack of a better phrase, spring for him. Thomas, finally healthy after struggling some with an old ankle injury as a true frosh and redshirting in 2009, has stated he will transfer out if this spring training does not produce the result of being in the tailback rotation next season. Redshirt freshman Korvic Neat will also be facing a critical spring. The Florida speedster has been working to gain needed weight and strength to go with his speed. When Neat was recruited, it was thought he could be a Dexter clone. While he has some of McCluster's physical attributes, he has not shown the tenacity Dexter had as a true frosh and Neat will have to exhibit that to make his mark. At fullback, the Rebs lost Andy Hartmann just a year after Jason Cook graduated, leaving that position in question. Sophomore E.J. Epperson was converted from tight end and shows promise, but he's got to become more consistent in being the "hammer" to secure that slot. Senior Derrick Davis will get an opportunity to leave an impression after moving to fullback in 2009 after three years at tailback. Hopefully, the transition is complete and Davis, a very good receiver out of the backfield, will show up more at the point of attack in spring ball. Senior Reggie Hicks was used at fullback some in Cotton Bowl practices and proved to be a rugged competitor while splitting his time at tight end. It would not come as a shock if Reggie and E.J. were called upon to shore up both tight end and fullback since both positions need depth help. The question is posed constantly. Who will replace Dexter? The blunt answer is that someone with Dexter's mercurial skills is not on the horizon, but that does not mean the Rebel run game, with some improvements from the guys on hand, can't be better than adequate. Here's to hoping that pans out in spring training.
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