The backfield seemed a little less crowded this spring as it was in 2013. LaDarius Perkins was lost to graduation and Derrick Milton transferred to McNeese State midyear. Dontavian Lee and Aeris Williams won’t be in until the summer leaving Josh Robinson, Nick Griffin, Ashton Shumpert and Brandon Holloway to get most of the reps this spring.
I doubt Mississippi State will have a feature back this fall opting rather to keep fresh legs on the field with all of the different options they have. The good news is most of the different backs they have bring a little something different to the table and can be used in varying situations.
After tearing ligaments in both knees during his career, Griffin finally seems healthy for the first time in years as a rising senior. I have always wanted to see what a physical back like Griffin could do in the weekly grind of the SEC but unfortunately the knee injuries have derailed a once promising career so far.
The good news is that Griffin showed no signs of injury this spring and seemed to have the confidence to cut again. He looked very impressive in the Bulldogs first two scrimmages inside Davis Wade Stadium this spring and even showed a burst of speed to create separation from the secondary on a long touchdown run. If Griffin can stay healthy through fall camp he will challenge Robinson for that top spot on the depth chart.
With the Bulldogs doing away with the fullback in the offense, Griffin could take on a lead blocking role. State should have some dangerous options in a two back set along with Dak Prescott’s legs as well. They even have enough to run the same diamond formation that Oklahoma State hurt them so much with in the season opener.
Robinson has trimmed his body down and doesn’t look quite so bowling ball-ish but his low center of graving and strong lower half still make him a tough tackle for opposing defenses. Because he can be physical between the tackles, Robinson sometimes surprises defenses with breakaway speed in the open field. I do think Robinson will get the majority of the carries in the fall but he will have to stay disciplined off the field to continue in a starring role on it.
Shumpert did not show much this spring due to injury. He was kept out of most of the team drills but should be healthy when fall camp opens. I know Shumpert was good enough to play right away in college but I felt like playing him last year was a waste. He carried 46 times for 190 yards and three touchdowns and caught four passes for 22 yards appearing in 12 games.
I know Shumpert also aided in special teams as well but let’s face it, another player could have filled that role. I just think a fifth-year senior Shumpert would be more of a valuable asset to the team than the role he filled as a true freshman last season. Still, he’s a major talent with a bright future ahead.
Holloway is still a bit of a head scratcher to me as a running back. He almost has world class type speed and still splits time as a receiver as well. Since Holloway is so erratic catching the football maybe the coaches felt they’d be better off handing it to him and trying to get him out in space. If Holloway can get past the front seven on defense that’s when he really becomes dangerous. He’s definitely not much of a between the tackles or goal line threat.
JUCO walk-on transfer Van Lee also got some valuable carries this spring. The former Copiah-Lincoln Community College standout is the best walk-on running back I’ve seen the Bulldogs have. He might not get to play a whole lot in the fall but he’ll be a heck of a scout team back for sure.