Redshirt freshman Eric Swinney has impressed so far in spring workouts
OXFORD – While senior quarterback Chad Kelly has the Ole Miss passing game moving along nicely in spring workouts, his coach, Hugh Freeze, wants to make sure the Rebels have a steady running game as part of their arsenal. He may have found a key component of it in Eric Swinney.
Swinney redshirted last year after having surgery for a stress fracture in his leg prior to the 2014-15 season. But at this past Monday’s practice, it did not look as if Swinney had missed a year of football. Kelly calls Swinney a “bruiser,” stating: “no one wants to really tackle him; otherwise he’s going to run you over.”
Each time Kelly handed the ball off to Swinney, the 5-foot-9 back ran his route to perfection; Swinney’s footwork is coming along nicely, despite only having a handful of practices with this season’s Ole Miss team.
So what are Freeze’s thoughts about the former Sandy Creek High standout?
“He looked very good today,” Freeze said after the conclusion of Monday’s practice. “He hasn’t gotten a lot of carries, but today he looked quick, powerful and strong. He finished runs well. I like what I saw. I think all of our guys, they’re all up over 200 pounds now, and they all have certain things.”
Freeze also commented on one specific area in which Swinney excels:
Hugh Freeze on RB Eric Swinney
Rebels looking to fill void left by Jaylen Walton
Last season, Ole Miss’ running game had its moments with Jaylen Walton leading the way. Walton was the leading rusher with 730 yards and finished his career ranked second in school history in all-purpose yards (4,742).
To replace Walton, the Rebels will to look to upperclassmen Akeem Judd and Jordan Wilkins. Both backs carried the football more than 70 times last season while averaging more than five yards a carry. Eugene Brazley is another physical back the Rebels could use in certain offensive packages for the upcoming season.
But Swinney is on the rise and has the attention of both Freeze and Kelly. Swinney was the only running back Freeze signed in his 2015 class, and Freeze reflected on the type of back he expects to see.
“It seems like forever ago when he signed,” Freeze said. “That school he comes from is a physical, physical football team. They practice that way every day. I’ve always felt like if he gets healthy he has a chance to be a special kid.”
Swinney, a former four-star recruit, hails from the same school as Rebels’ former defensive back Mike Hilton.
Quarterbacks/Running backs on the same page
Over the course of the spring, running backs coach Derrick Nix has spent a great deal of time making sure the quarterbacks and running backs are on the same page. Freeze is definitely on board with the idea.
“We’ve done more of it in spring than we have in fall,” Freeze said of the work being done with the two positions. “We’ve got two guys who have never done the footwork a whole lot so you’ve got to get that done.”
Freeze explained that “the timing with the backs, and the footwork” is something on which they are focusing. “We had a center there, and that gives us a real picture of the exact timing of what we want the footwork to be like and what we want the play fakes to be like off of it,” he added.
If Swinney continues to impress as he has so far in spring workouts, look for the running back to be a key contributor to the Ole Miss offense this coming season.
(Feature image credit: Joshua McCoy, Ole Miss Athletics)