The battle for Ole Miss’ starting tailback job remains wide-open as the Rebels progress through their first week of practice in preparation for the upcoming season. Ole Miss lost former starter Jeff Scott after last season and must choose a new featured back before the team’s season-opener against Boise State in Atlanta on August 28.

Head coach Hugh Freeze has a full stable of backs to choose from, including the team’s top-two rushers from last season: I’Tavius Mathers and Jaylen Walton.

Mathers ended 2013 third on the team with 95 carries, but racked up a team-high 563 yards on nearly six yards per carry.

Walton was less consistent out of the backfield last season but proved to be more versatile in the Rebels’ offense. The junior ran for 523 yards on 113 carries, but also caught the ball 29 times, which was fourth among all Rebels’ skill players. He also posted eight total touchdowns (six rushing, two receiving), which was more than Mathers and Scott combined to score in 2013 (five touchdowns, all rushing).

Freeze and the rest of the offensive coaching staff have given no indication this early in training camp as to who the starter might be, but Mathers and Walton appear to be the front-runners. Because of their varying styles, both players could see plenty of touches this season after splitting time with Scott a season ago.

Sophomore Mark Dodson will also be considered for the job after Freeze slotted him as the third-team running back on the his initial depth chart of the summer. Dodson is the only other returning tailback to have touched the ball at least 20 times last season (he carried it 22 times for 124 yards and a touchdown on the year).

Ole Miss co-offensive coordinator Dan Werner told the Clarion Ledger’s Hugh Kellenberger there are as many as six different tailbacks in consideration for the job, and admitted the competition has remained fluid from day-to-day.

“There are six of them in there, and every one of them is a good player,” Werner told Kellenberger. “They’re all going to have to battle and if one guy has a bad day, he knows he’s probably going to be dropping down.”

Another player who could earn consideration from the Rebels’ coaching staff is junior college transfer Akeem Judd, who enrolled at Ole Miss in June after playing at Georgia Military College last season.

Judd is the heaviest back on Ole Miss’ roster at 220 pounds, and could find a niche as the team’s short-yardage back after the departure of former backup quarterback Barry Brunetti.

Werner said he would love to see Judd go “north and south” in live game action, explaining “that’s why we brought him in.”

Among the other backs who could work their way into the lineup early in the season are junior Jimmy Potepa and redshirt freshmen Nathan Vanderburg, Jordan Wilkins and Eugene Brazley.