Actually, training camp kind of sucks for actual football players, but the upside is it means the season's getting close. Which means it's time for some positional previews for the Tigers. We got the band back together for a series of roundtables where we talk about what we like, what we love, and what we're worried about for the 2011 season.
Projected Depth Chart:
11 Sophomore Spencer Ware - 5'11, 223
42 Sophomore Michael Ford - 5'10, 215
4 Sophomore Alfred Blue - 6'2, 215
27 Freshman Kenny Hilliard - 5'11, 240 (may also see snaps at fullback)
3 Freshman Jakhari Gore - 5'9, 166
44 Sophomore J.C. Copeland - 6'1, 280
35 Senior James Stampley - 5'10, 239
Billy: So I don't know about you guys, but I'm as excited about LSU's running backs as I've been in a long time. Spencer Ware alone is enough to generate that, but I'm pretty confident in almost the whole depth chart. What say you?
Paul: Frankly, I can't remember the last time LSU didn't have at least a good running back. Scott, Hester, Broussard, Addai, Vincent, Toefield, Davis... I can't think of year where we trotted out someone who was entirely unproductive. Hell, even if he never lived up to his recruiting promise, Keiland Williams showed he was a competent player, at worst.
That being said, I think we're about to see another level from Spencer Ware. I admit, I've been fond of him since I watched his recruiting tape for the first time, but I truly believe this kid is going to be a special player at LSU. I'll even stake my claim now: Heisman Trophy contender special. And this isn't just excitement from the Spring Game or his spectacular performance against Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl. Ware has the physical tools of an elite back. Sure, he's not a burner, but speed is an overrated trait in running backs. Ware is big, he's agile and runs with tremendous burst and power. He's compact and well put together, and has flashed tremendous vision. He's not going to waste time trying to bust every play outside... he's going to get north/south in a hurry and make people on the second level pay for making the decision to attempt to tackle him. But he's nimble as well. He's light on his feet and shifty in the hole. Though Ware likely runs an average 40 time, I'm willing to bet he'll still post a number of big plays based on his vision and ability to get yards after contact.
As for the rest of the depth chart, you have two guys you figure will feature heavily: Michael Ford and Alfred Blue. Blue showed flashes last year, but his weakness in blocking and lack of ball security pushed him to the bench. Ford is a guy who seems to flash big play potential, only to waste time dancing around. Most believed he would become the next great LSU back, but for whatever reason he's yet to seize that potential. The physical tools are there, and he's certainly one of the most Greek God looking figures on our football team. But I don't want Adonis. I want Achilles. Jakhari Gore should see some snaps as well, but it remains to be seen how many. Finally, I expect freshman Terrance Magee to be in the mix as well. Miles routinely speaks glowingly of Magee.
Poseur: I'm not sure I want Achilles either. Achilles was a headcase who sat out because he wasn't getting enough credit. (Yes, ATVS, where we break down classic epic poems as well as football). If I want a character from the Iliad, give me Ajax. Able to take on an entire army by himself, and without the hype, or even a god to support his efforts.
Ajax or Achilles or whoever, I agree that Spencer Ware looks like he is going to be a special player. LSU's had a long ling of productive backs, but we rarely have a great one. Ware is our first real game-changing back since Kevin Faulk. That's not to say guys like Toefield, Addai, and Ridley weren't terrific players, but they lacked that ability to just carry the team. Ware is that kind of player. The kind of guy that when he takes the football, you hold your breath.
That's the importance of hitting the hole. Ware takes the ball and immediately attacks. He's just a spectacular player who will likely be asked to carry the offense. The other backs are all incredibly talented, and I'm confident in all of them to get yards in their designated roles, but Ware is definitely the guy who has established himself as a star. It could have been just one game, but I don't think so. The Warewolf is about to become The Man.
Billy: I'm dangerously close to man-crush with Ware. He gives LSU the power of Ridley, but with a little more burst and athleticism in the open field. And he's shown the ability to be the most complete back LSU has had in some time -- a good receiver out of the backfield and even *gasp!* a legitimate Wildcat quarterback. He has the potential to be the type of back that can explode on 15 carries, but still (no pun intended) wear defenses out with 25 or 30 carries. Ridley did most of his damage as a late-game closer, and I think Ware combines that with the skillset to make big plays early in games as well.
I've already made the Genghis Khan metaphor on Ware if we're going to talk ancient warriors, but I don't think you can go wrong with either Achilles or Ajax either. And if we're going to discuss potential memes I would throw out the Airwolf theme to go with the whole "Warewolf" idea, but I'm a sucker for 80s action shows. Any other ideas?
Paul: The lone question mark would be if Ware did get injured. *knocks on every piece of wood in sight* Does anyone feel comfortable with the backups taking the leading role? I'm not sure I do.
Also something to consider is Shepard (who will hopefully be eligible without concerns) as a runner. He's shown his dynamic playmaking skills far more as a RB than a WR to date.
Billy: I've been a big champion of using Shepard in that duel role, but I think that ship has sailed, aside from a few specific plays. And at this point, I'd rather they just focus on just teaching him one position.
This is kind of like how I feel about the offensive line -- the backups are good at very specific roles, but as soon as we talk about expanding them, I get nervous. If Michael Ford attacked tacklers the way he did the weight room, I'd feel a lot better. But until he does that, he'll still be the Mr. Outside type. I think Blue reminds me of the player Richard Murphy might have become without all the knee injuries -- a potentially dangerous slashing, outside-zone type of back -- but he's not really proven either. Gore's size makes him more of a situational guy, and Hilliard is a freshman that might still wind up as a fullback.
I'm pretty sure LSU could have a passable running game with any of those guys just because of the offensive line, but there are definitely some question marks there. Blue intrigues me, because there's clearly something the coaching staff sees in him. And knowing that he's up to 215 pounds makes me feel a little better about his ability to handle a larger carry load.
Poseur: There have been early raves for Magee out of practice, but I don't trust freshman raves.
We can't lose Ware. Miles could put together a pretty good rotation without Ware, with each back getting 5-10 carries behind an effective o-line, and we'd have a good running game. Not great, but good. Ware is a difference maker and I hate to say we couldn't survive an injury to him, but it would extremely hurt our offense. Ware is that good.
Billy: Clearly we see Ware as a potential Meme Magnet. Nickname ideas?
Poseur: I'm trying out Warewolf but what we really need is the Altered Beast gif. Or Rampage. I ask our readers to dig those up. Because I like the idea of Ware transforming into a monster.
Billy: I love me some 80s action television, so the Airwolf theme comes to mind as well. Any other thoughts on theme songs?
Paul: Protect ya Neck by the Wu-Tang Clan.
Poseur: Something fun. Bang Pop by Free Energy.
Billy: My burgeoning man-crush also leads me to the delightfully intense You've Seen the Butcher from the Deftones.