OXFORD, Miss. – It’s too early in spring camp for Ole Miss running backs coach Derrick Nix to have a set rotation in his group, so he’s assessing each tailback’s skill set–and having some fun while doing so.
The Rebels will not have an experienced back like Jordan Wilkins, a 1,000-yard rusher last season, in the backfield for the 2018 season, so Nix is doing what he does best–coaching up each running back to see who fits best within the offense. This is the first time in Nix’s coaching career that he’s had so many new faces in his running backs group who have little to no experience.
“Just teaching everything from scratch, just seeing the look in their eyes because they don’t really know anything yet,” Nix said of what he is enjoying thus far. “It’s been fun to have some new guys.”
New kids on the block
Scottie Phillips and Isaiah Woullard are two of the new faces to the group.
Woullard, a true freshman out of Presbyterian Christian School in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, is the all-time leading rusher in Mississippi high school history with 8,294 career yards.
Phillips is a transfer from Jones County Junior College where he was the top-rated junior college running back in the nation. He rushed for 1,070 for the Bobcats last season, which ranked third in the state of Mississippi and 12th in the NJCAA.
Linton joins the RB corps
Linton, a junior, was with the Rebels last season but wasn’t getting a ton of reps at his position on defense, so last season approached Coach Nix about possibly helping out with the Ole Miss offense. That led to Linton participating on the scout team offense last season, standing in as Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts as the Rebels prepared for the Tide.
As time went by, the defensive coaches raved about Linton’s performance with the scout team. “It looked like I was making plays,” Linton said of his time on the scout team. It was not long after that the coaches started seriously considering a position change for him.
“They talked to me about it, and I started working reps after practice just getting the feel for it. After the season, he (Nix) came to me about it, talked about it, and they said, ‘Why not give it a try?’”
Running back Armani Linton on his position change
The position is not completely foreign to Linton, as he played running back in high school before moving to safety after he signed with the Rebels. Coach Nix believes Linton is doing a good job at his new position thus far in the spring.
“From the early morning workouts and the first two days of spring ball, it looks promising,” Nix said about the junior’s position change.
“He’s athletic, fast, and big. I think he’s going to figure it out once we start tackling and things like that. But, he’s picking up the offense well, and he’s working at it really hard.”
Coach Derrick Nix on Armani Linton at RB
Having a large running back, especially in the Southeastern Conference, could be of benefit to the Rebels. Linton definitely has the size, standing at 6-foot-2 and weighing 218 pounds. The Walnut, Mississippi native is the tallest of the eight running backs on the Rebels’ roster, and he could be a nightmare for defenses once he learns the offense.
As for Linton, he’s taking things as they come and doing his best to learn whatever he needs to be of help to his team.
“Overall I feel like I’m grasping it pretty well,” Linton said. “I’m not trying to let my mind get too ahead of things. I’m just kind of letting it come to me. Not rushing anything and being patient while I’m back there. That’s the main thing.”
RB Armani Linton
Nix taking his time with newcomers
Nix isn’t moving at a fast pace with the running backs, especially since three of them are new to his system. In the early portions of spring camp, Nix has been doing a walk-thru of each of the plays he wants the running backs to master. He feels more time is needed with this group since they haven’t had a chance yet to learn all he needs them to know.
“I think more time is being spent, more emphasis on things–not taking anything for granted, assuming they know anything, just starting from A, B, C.”
Coach Derrick Nix on working with the new backs
With running backs D’Vaughn Pennamon and D.K. Buford out for spring camp with injuries, opportunities will be there for Linton, Woullard, and Phillips to get reps.
Nix mentioned on Thursday that Eric Swinney is the most experienced running back on the roster. Swinney, a junior out of Riverdale, Georgia, has yet to play a full season due to injuries in the past two seasons; however, Nix is hopeful Swinney will be healthy this season.
Spring practices continue
Ole Miss’ next practice with media availability is Tuesday, March 6. The rest of this week’s practices will be closed to the media and the public, and the team will be off next week for spring break.