By LEE ADAMS
If there is a position that the No. 20 Mississippi State Bulldogs have some depth at, it's running back. The Bulldogs ran a rotation of sorts last season that included Vick Ballard, Robert Elliot and LaDarius Perkins.
All three are returning to the backfield this season, but newcomers like Josh Robinson and Derrick Milton are following the lead of the upperclassmen, especially Ballard. Ballard doesn't take the leadership role lightly as he can be seen giving tips to the younger players during practice.
"I try to lead by example by giving great effort all the time," said Ballard. "I'm vocal when I can be just to help out as much as I can."
The Bulldogs had rough weather on Thursday night, but it was the heat that got to the players in the morning practice on Friday. Despite the early morning heat, Ballard and the Bulldogs kept the intensity and tempo at high levels.
"It was kind of hot today, but we pushed through it and everybody was working hard," said Ballard. "We are trying to move faster everyday and I think everybody is adjusting pretty quick."
Ballard, who finished last season shy of 1,000 rushing yards with 968 in 186 carries, has plans to improve this season, but knows it takes doing everything right to get where he wants to be.
"It's like Coach (Mullen) says, I know what to do but I got to know how and why I do it," said Ballard. "I'm focusing on doing the small things right to make the big picture better."
Friday morning's practice mainly featured the ones and the freshmen and gave the coaches more one on one time with the younger players. Head Coach Dan Mullen spent some time early in practice with the running backs and noticed how the leader and follower situation was working out.
"Having a guy like Vick Ballard, who is an ultimate leader, showing the younger guys how to do things is what you want," said Mullen. "The young guys are picking things up quick and with Nick Griffin's injury, some of the young guys are going to have to pick it up and play some. The quicker they learn, the quicker we can get them on the field."
Griffin sat out last season as a redshirt and was doing well in spring practices, but a knee injury has sidelined him opening the door for the younger guys.
Still in front of the younger guys are some skilled backs in Perkins and Elliot. Perkins, who is going into his redshirt sophomore season, had a breakout year in 2010 as he rushed for 566 years on 101 carries. Last season is in the past and now Perkins is focusing on building off last season's success.
"I've been working hard this summer so I can build off what I did last season," said Perkins. "The o-line helped me a lot last season and they have been working hard so we can all be better."
Also in the backfield will be Elliott, who played in all 13 games last season, got less carries than Ballard and Perkins with 60, but did end the season with 221 yards. Elliott is going into his senior season and has came into practice lighter than the spring.
"I was around 215 during the spring, but I'm down to 210 now," said Elliott. "I'm quicker and stronger than last season."
Elliott is also taking a leadership role with the younger guys and feels some added pressure from it.
"I feel pressure helping the younger guys," said Elliott. "This is my last year of playing and I want to help as many guys as I can before I leave."
The three backs the Bulldogs will mainly rotate between are sure to make an impact on the offense in 2011 just as they did in 2010. Last season, the Bulldogs running backs accounted for 22 of the 28 rushing touchdowns (Ballard 19, Perkins 3) and rushed for 1,755 of the 2,793 total rushing yards. The Bulldogs' success on the ground last year was largely in part to Coach Greg Knox who is in his third season with the Bulldogs. Knox can be seen and heard during practices, getting his point across to his backs to prepare them for the gauntlet that is the SEC defenses.
Today the Bulldogs will hit the field in pads with the first practice beginning at 8:45 a.m. and the second one beginning at 2:45 p.m. The morning practice will showcase the number one guys and the freshmen, and the second practice will feature the number two and three guys. Both practices are open to the public.