HATTIESBURG -- First-year Southern Miss head football coach Jay Hopson wants to run the football a good bit of the time in 2016 and that's just fine with his running backs.
Hopson said he wants his offense to be "balanced" between running and passing, "50-50," he said after Thursday's practice.
"I think that's always the ideal world," he said. "If you can be a balanced offense, that's what I want."
Hopson noted that Ito Smith, who gained 1,128 yards last season, and Patrick Brooks, a redshirt freshman who once ran for 305 yards and five touchdowns in a Tampa, Fla., high school game, looked good in last Saturday's scrimmage.
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And George Payne and Tez Parks, who last played in 2014 before missing last season with injuries, have both returned to the field.
"Spring is such a great time because it gives guys a chance to win a job," Hopson said. "It'll be fun to watch. We've seen some guys make plays. That's what I want to see offensively. I want to see guys make explosive plays offensively, I want to see guys make explosive plays defensively. I want to see good tackling."
There's no doubt that Smith can make plays. He started six games as a freshman and gained 100-plus yards in two of them. He made seven starts last year and averaged 6.6 yards per run and scored 10 touchdowns.
"I like (the new offense)," Smith said. "The spread, I like it. I'm a quick learner. There are a lot of similarities and the differences are like new plays adding in. It's pretty easy. I'm adjusting pretty good."
Hopson said the Golden Eagles are going through a playbook learning process that is not nearly complete.
"We're probably about 50-60 percent along," he said. "We've still got 40 percent to go. The first spring is always the toughest spring for installation because you're putting in new stuff. Normally after about day 5-6, you're usually through with installation but the first year it usually takes a little longer."
Payne, who ran 43 times for 173 yards as a freshman and 86 times for 271 yards as a sophomore, is just glad to be back on the football field after suffering a knee injury.
"The two years I did play we weren't very good," he said. "The year I didn't play we went to a conference championship. I had to watch the championship from home. I didn't travel, didn't practice, didn't do anything. It was terrible.
"Being back, I'm excited. I'm so happy. Usually when you're playing, you don't understand the opportunity you have to be on the football field. And now that I sat out a year, I understand the opportunity to be in the black and gold so I don't take it for granted."
When he did play, Payne was known as a hard runner, one who would try to run over you more than he attempted to go around would-be tacklers. He says that will always be the case.
"Physicality, that's my style," Payne said. "I've always been a physical back and I'll probably never stop being a physical back. The first day I came out here, I was kind of timid at first. But now, I feel like I'm back in the groove and I can run how I used to."
Payne is not backing down from a challenge to contribute to the team's success.
Southern Miss will go through another scrimmage Saturday.