Fall Camp Position Previews: What's the Deal with LSU's Running Backs?

It's funny. You wait all summer...okay...all year really, for fall practice to get here, and then it comes time and then suddenly you're not that sure what to say. In a lot of ways it feels like we've talked and talked and talked about all of this plenty of times, though that may entirely be the voices in my head.

In the case of the running back slot, there isn't all that much I can tell you that we haven't already reviewed in the spring. Besides, I'm way overdue for some Seinfeld references.

Roster Information

Height/Weight

2011 Season

42 Junior Michael Ford

5'10, 215

127 carries for 756 yards, 7 TDs, 4 catches for 10 yards.

11 Junior Spencer Ware

5'11, 225

177 carries for 707 yard, 8 TDs, 11 catches for 73 yard and 1 TD.

4 Junior Alfred Blue

6'2, 215

78 carries for 539 yards, 7 TDs, 3 catches for -3 yards

27 Sophomore Kenny Hilliard

5'11, 240

62 carries for 336 yards, 8 TDs, 3 catches for 13 yards and 1 TD.

14 Sophomore Terrance Magee

5'9, 212

27 carries for 133 yards, 1 TD

33 Freshman Jeremy Hill

6'2, 225

302 carries for 2,260 yards and 36 touchdowns as a senior at Redemptorist High School in 2010

Fullbacks:

44 Junior J.C. Copeland

6'0, 280

Appeared in 14 games with two carries for 0 yards

43 Sophomore Connor Neighbors

5'10, 233

No appearances

36 Junior Cleveland Davis

6'0, 289

No appearances

So what's the deal? This is probably the deepest position on the team. LSU's top four running backs could all play for any team in the SEC, and a number of them would start, not to mention a pair of highly touted backups. Size, speed, versatility, there's a little bit of everything, and that's what we saw out of the running game in 2011, when three different backs logged 100-plus yard games, and a non-starter led the Tigers in rushing on seven different occasions. The team's leading rusher, Michael Ford, might even be fourth in the 2012 pecking order for all we know.

Les Miles is on the record as saying he'd prefer to see a top-two emerge, and Frank Wilson has shown that whomever is feeling it on a particular day is going to get the carries, and last season that resulted in a team that could beat opponents with power, zone, stretch and option runs.

In terms of a depth chart, it seems like Spencer Ware is still at the top. But with talks of using more of a true two-back set often, his primary asset is not his power, but his versatility. He can line up at fullback in the eye, h/f-back in spread looks and even split out on occasion, and his athleticism and receiving ability could make him a threat at any of those spots. That can allow LSU to change the strength of formations and manipulate the defense pre-snap to create mismatches with both the run and pass. For the first time since 2007, expect the running backs to be much more active in the passing game.

Kenny Hilliard and Alfred Blue will likely be the two backs divvying up most of the carries, and both give you inside power with the speed to break things on occasion. Blue is more of the pure one-cut zone type, and will likely see a lot of work on stretches and other zone runs. Hilliard is built perfectly for the power-O. The ever mercurial Ford will likely remain the speed back, getting the ball on sweeps, stretches and possibly the occasional option pitch. He may have the best overall toolset, with his speed and spectacular weight room strength, but he's just too inconsistent of a runner and a complete liability in the passing game.

Backups Terrance Magee and Jeremy Hill present an interesting conundrum for the coaches. There's very little reason to redshirt running backs these days, which is part of why Magee saw a handful of carries last year. You can find good ones in almost every recruiting class, and it's generally in their best interests to get to the NFL as soon as possible before they incur a lot of mileage. But with the possibility of Ware, Blue and Ford all leaving after this season, it might be smart to try and save a year of eligibility for one of these two now. Chances are that will depend on how the rotation shakes out.

Hill might also see the field some as a backup fullback. J.C. Copeland has the starting gig all to himself this year, and has reportedly dropped down to 260 pounds to increase his versatility. Even if LSU's pile-driver is in better shape, it will help to be able to spell him from time to time.

The deal is, this group of running backs is the total package. Look for them to be deployed in similar fashion to last year. The touch distribution may change, but look for multiple players to get their chance to shine.

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