It’s with good reason that he was named preseason All-ACC and also to the watch lists for the Doak Walker Award (top running back) and the Maxwell Award (player of the year). The Yellow Jackets’ most likely path to the ACC Championship game includes Mills and expected starting quarterback Matthew Jordan forming a punishing interior running tandem.
The question marks are behind him on the depth chart, with a quartet of inexperienced backs vying to be the No. 2 behind Mills.
First team after spring: Dedrick Mills, sophomore.
Notable reserves: KirVonte Benson, sophomore, Quaide Weimerskirch, sophomore.
On the way: Jerry Howard, freshman, Jordan Ponchez-Mason, freshman.
Analysis: With the starting job secured and in good hands, the primary question of the preseason camp at the position will be who Mills' top backup will be. Consider this: Starting in 2011, because of either injuries or other reasons, there has been only one season in which a B-back has started every game of the season. (David Sims, 2013)
The pairing of Mills and Marcus Marshall would have been quite a luxury, but Marshall chose to transfer at the end of last season, landing at James Madison.
Mills missed four games for two unrelated suspensions and a concussion. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he missed a game this season. In that case, Johnson will find himself filling the primary running-back spot with a player who has, at most, one career carry.
Of the four contenders, Jerry Howard and Jordan Ponchez-Mason are incoming freshmen. Benson and Weimerskirch both played seven games last season as redshirt freshmen, largely in special-teams roles. Weimerskirch got one carry, a fumble.
Johnson limited Mills’ reps in the spring to give Benson and Weimerskirch a chance to gain experience, and both showed potential.
Howard and Ponchez-Mason, both highly productive backs in high school, will get a chance, too. It’s possible Ponchez-Mason could move to A-back.
Factoid: In high school, Mills worked at a funeral home in his hometown of Waycross in South Georgia.
Statistic: Mills' average of 85.7 rushing yards per game, while it did not meet NCAA requirements to be ranked by per-game status, was fifth highest in the ACC last year.
Prediction: Barring injury, Mills will clear 1,000 rushing yards and be named All-ACC. The likely winner of the backup competition is Benson.
The series continues Wednesday with a preview of the quarterback position.
The series so far:
Part 1: Wide receiver
Part 2: Offensive line
Part 3: A-back