Over the next few days the staff at BDJ will breakdown every position on Mississippi State's roster. Today Michael, Logan and Bob take a look at the Bulldogs running backs.
Michael's overview: Entering last season I never thought Mississippi State would be able to replace the productivity of Anthony Dixon. However, I don't think I fully understood how talented Vick Ballard was. This season the Bulldogs are stacked at running back. When you consider a backfield that includes Ballard, LaDarius Perkins and an improved Robert Elliott, not to mention a group of fullbacks that show promise it is easy to see why State will have a run first mentality.
In my opinion the most impressive thing about this group is the depth. In addition to the already mentioned players, State could have Nick Griffin back from injury early in the season as well as having two true freshmen that have the skill to compete from day one.
Vick Ballard: In talking with Ballard the fact that this is his final season of college football isn't lost on him. He is as focused as any player I've seen. I don't have to tell you of his style and abilities on the field… he proved he belongs in this league last season. I can tell you he hasn't lost a step and with another year of experience I expect him to finish the season among the league's best backs.
LaDarius Perkins: I didn't think it was possible, but Perkins is quicker than he was a year ago. I don't know that his forty-time is faster, but his ability to change direction and shift gears has certainly improved. Last season he ran between the tackles better than you would expect a smaller back to do. If the first few days of fall camp is any indication I think you'll see that pattern continue.
Robert Elliott: I'll admit, I'm in a wait and see mode with Elliott. He has always passed the eye test, but somehow managed to come up short on production. That can happen coming off a knee injury, especially as severe as the one he suffered. That being said, I see a confidence in Elliott that I haven't seen before. He appears to have confidence in his need and his ability to plant and cut. He won't get the carries of Ballard or Perkins, but I'm anticipating productive carries from this senior.
Nick Griffin: The jury is out on exactly how this talented young back will come back from his knee injury suffered in the spring. His rehab process is ahead of schedule and he will certainly see action this fall. I'll add to this by saying last season he was the most talented running back on the roster. He has a special combination of speed and power. State fans will be impressed when he takes the field this fall and excite to watch his career unfold.
Josh Robinson: He's a freshman. Early on he had trouble holding on to the football, partly because he was thrown into the mix to see what he could handle. You've probably heard of a back being described as a "bowling ball", well that's the perfect description for Robinson. Well, as fast bowling ball. This kid has speed to burn but unlike most short backs he has a thickness to his frame that makes him hard to bring to the ground. He'll likely redshirt, but when his time comes he will be fun to watch.
Derrick Milton: During fall camp Milton was the biggest surprise of all the backs. He is much bigger than I remembered him being during the recruiting process. He is a tall back with good size. I'm sure he is a bit overwhelmed by all that is thrown at him, but you couldn't tell it by watching him. I hope that State doesn't have to press him into action this season, but if that were to happen I think he would be productive.
Logan's overview: Mississippi State has always been known for its ability to run the football. After all, that's really all the Bulldogs have been able to hang their hat on historically on offense. While this season could add a little more passing to the mix, MSU will still rely on its ground game heavily. The stable of running backs that led the Bulldogs to the Gator Bowl are all back and then some. Add talented freshmen Griffin, Milton and Robinson to the mix and this season should be another successful rushing one.
Vick Ballard: I've been trying to figure out exactly what makes Ballard so good since I first saw him plays as a sophomore at Gulf Coast Community College. I still can't pinpoint exactly what that is other than his strong work ethic. He doesn't do anything flashy or great on the field but just does so many things well that when you look at his overall game he's consistent across the board. In his first year at State Ballard broke the single season school record for touchdowns. What's he going to do for an encore?
LaDarius Perkins: Perkins brings exactly what you want in a backup back. Perkins is the home run threat that the Bulldogs need in the backfield. He's explosive and capable of taking the ball to the house with every touch. He may not be the biggest guy on the roster but if you notice he gets every ounce of muscle out of his 185-pounds. I can't imagine what it must have been like for him playing at Class 1A in high school.
Robert Elliott: Some Mississippi State fans have already written off Elliott as a bust simply bases on his high expectations as a four-star recruit. But suffering a much publicized knee injury as a redshirt freshman has sidetracked his once promising career. But it appears as if Elliott has gotten that quick first step back that he's been lacking the past two years. He appears poised to prove a lot of doubters wrong this season.
Nick Griffin: Griffin is the most physically gifted back of the bunch and was probably the most talented back on the roster even last year when he redshirted. He is a specimen at 215-pounds and can run over defenders as easily as he can run around them. The question with Griffin is how will he bounce back from his knee injury back in the spring? Knee injuries have derailed many a promising career (see above player). His rehab is ahead of schedule and should factor into the mix midway through the season.
Josh Robinson: Robinson's arrival was a welcomed site for MSU fans. With Griffin and Milton both undergoing knee surgeries since the first of the year it was imperative that Robinson enroll this fall. He is much bigger than he was when he committed at Big Dawg Camp last summer but still looks to have retained his speed in the process. A summer with Matt Balis will help him so a redshirt season would likely be what's best for Robinson.
Derrick Milton: Milton obviously has some smart people around him. He skipped his final season of high school to enroll at Hargrave to get his grades in order and that process worked out to his benefit. Milton is showing no signs that his knee is even a factor and looked full speed the first few practices. He still has to learn the offense but has natural ability. I imagine that he and Robinson will be a combination to be reckoned with in the SEC for many years to come.
Bob's overview: 2010 is only a one-year sample size, but it appears that the role of running backs at Mississippi State is changing. After four years of riding Dixon's play-after-play, things changed. Part of that was out of necessity after losing Dixon, but it also may be indicative of the future at the position. Versatility is at a higher premium. Running backs are often used as receivers and receivers are often used as running backs. The offense will adjust to the players, but it appears that when Dan Mullen has the players he wants, the offense is varied out of the backfield.
Vick Ballard: Ballard is the Honda Accord of running backs. Steady. Reliable. No frills. Mullen got a value when he signed Ballard out of junior college, a back that apparently few others were interested in. Ballard lives and breathes football, is always a team-first guy and shies away from any attention that setting scoring records brought him. He is the leader of the group and a tremendous lead back for the Bulldogs.
LaDarius Perkins: Ballard is the touchdown machine, but there is a very real chance that Perkins rushes for as many yards as Ballard in 2011 (or maybe even more). Did you know Perkins led the team in all-purpose yards in 2010? Perkins is stronger than he was a year ago, is just as quick and worked all summer on not getting caught from behind. He will be a force in 2011.
Robert Elliott: At this point, Elliott is stuck at No. 3 in the backfield rotation, but he could be one of the better third options in the league. He looked like a new man in fall training camp, having lost a few pounds and he appeared to have more of a burst. He won't be a star, but he's a team player who says he wants to do whatever he can to help the team win.
Nick Griffin: Back in the spring, he showed flashes of being the best back on the team. At the time, it was just a matter of knowing what to do. When he knew the play, he was unstoppable. When he didn't, it was obvious. He's had a whole summer of studying the playbook, so the question is how he returns from injury. There has been no indication that he will be anything other than 100 percent back to original form, meaning he could start showing up late in the season.
Josh Robinson: Much like Michael Carr last fall (though not to that degree), it obvious that Robinson had missed a summer of Balis workouts. His ceiling is clearly high and his combination of thickness and speed is impressive and rare. His legs make him look a defensive lineman, but his stature and quickness is that of speedy running back. He needs to redshirt, but he will be ready to make an immediate impact in 2012.
Derrick Milton: Without Griffin out there, Milton was one of the more physically impressive backs in fall training camp. He's fast, strong and chiseled. If Milton plays in 2011 it likely means something went wrong with one of the guys in front of him, but there is little doubt he could contribute immediately.