The Ole Miss offensive unit will have to deal with the loss of running back Eric Swinney in Saturday’s AdvoCare Texas Kickoff against Texas Tech. The redshirt junior was diagnosed with mononucleosis early Tuesday, after showing symptoms over the weekend. The team’s medical staff expects Swinney to miss the Rebels’ first three games.
Going into the season, Matt Luke’s backfield was set to be a committee of sorts, with junior Scottie Phillips and Swinney looking to replace Jordan Wilkins, a fifth-round pick in April’s NFL Draft.
Though he is listed as the second running back on the Ole Miss depth chart, Swinney possesses a vital asset that is now absent in the Rebel backfield: experience. As a junior college transfer, Phillips has had his fair share of playing time in his career, but none of it has come while playing against an SEC defense.
“It depends what situation we’re in,” running back coach Derrick Nix said, regarding who would come in behind Phillips on Saturday. “I think that you could see Isaiah (Woullard), you could see Tylan (Knight), you could see Armani (Linton).”
Woullard, who is listed third on the depth chart, and Knight are both true freshmen, and Linton is a junior who has primarily been a defensive back for the Rebels, up to this point in his career.
The loss of Swinney hurts the Rebel cause even more when considering that the Ole Miss backfield is already banged up. Junior D’Vaughn Pennamon was the Rebels’ second-leading rusher in 2017 despite suffering a season-ending knee dislocation against Texas A&M in November. Pennamon is still recovering from the injury, though he has started participating in individual drills.
“I think in midseason we will re-evaluate him (and) see where he is at,” Nix said.
Despite these losses, the unit remains confident that they will be able to compete at a high level.
“(Coach Nix) has helped us out a lot and taught us a lot, so I think we will be fine,” Woullard said. “It’s the same role, just bigger opportunity.”
Woullard also acknowledged that there is a certain comfort level that one can have when playing behind such an experienced offensive line in such a talented offensive unit.
“They’re great,” Woullard said. “It’s just an honor (to play with them).”
Nix himself is similarly upbeat. Though the unexpected nature of Swinney’s injury could have caught the coach off-guard, Nix remained poised thanks to a great deal of confidence in the remainder of the position group.
“I feel really good,” Nix said. “Of course, it is always different when you get into a game situation, but they have always shown signs that they will be able to compete at a high level and be able to function.”