LSU 2013 Optimistic/Pessimistic/Realistic: Running Backs

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sport

Other positions may be what determine how far LSU’s offense will go in 2013, but this group of running backs will be the muscle that pushes it forward.

Same song, different verse. LSU returns another strong, fast and deep group of talented running backs. This group might not have the sheer numbers of 2012, but it's still an experienced group with the talent to be one of the best in the country.

And for all of the talk about new offenses and expanded, more effective passing attacks, this offense will still start, and hopefully end, with the running game.

Running Backs

4 Alfred Blue (Sr.)*

6-2, 222

40 carries for 270 yarrds (6.7 ypc), 2 TDs in four games. 7 catches for 45 yards.

14 Terrence Magee (So.)

5-9, 214

1 catch for 7 yards, 1 carry for no gain.

27 Kenny Hilliard (Jr.)*

6-0, 233

82 carries for 464 yards (5.6), 6 TDs. 3 catches for 21 yards.

33 Jeremy Hill (So.)*

6-2, 235

142 carries for 755 yards (5.3), 12 TDs. 8 catches for 73 yards.

Fullbacks

43 Connor Neighbors (Sr.)

5-11, 239

1 carry for 5 yards.

44 J.C. Copeland (Sr.)*

6-1, 270

21 carries for 67 yards, 4 TDs. 3 catches for 54 yards.

We all know at this point, that regardless of depth chart, LSU will ride the hot hand in any given game. In Miles' eight seasons in Baton Rouge, just three running backs have topped the 200-carry mark and only one (Stevan Ridley) has carried the ball more than 240 times. The wealth will likely be shared among this group.

But for now, the starter, and one of the leaders on this offense, is senior Alfred Blue. A consistent bit performer for the last few seasons, Blue exploded last August for LSU before a season-ending knee injury. He appears to be back at full-strength, and gives the offense a well-rounded starter. Blue is a pure, one-cut slasher type of back, and at his best in the zone running game. But he's enough of a blocker and receiver to stay on the field on all downs, with the size to run between the tackles and enough speed to get to the edge.

For now, junior Kenny Hilliard sits at No. 2 on the chart. After a fantastic close to his freshman season, Hilliard also got out to a hot start, but seemed to wear down and fall out of favor during 2012's second half. There were rumors of some personal struggles, and in the spring he still didn't quite find his feet. But he appears to have found some new life this August. He reported to camp closer to the 220-pound mark than his listed weight, and is showing an increased explosion that could give him a chance to jump to the head of the line. It's no secret that with the short shelf life of a running back, more and more will be trying to get to their first pro contract sooner rather than later. Hilliard may see 2013 as his money year, and could be looking to go out with a bang. At the very least, a fully engaged Hilliard is a powerful runner that should get plenty of opportunities to convert crucial short-yardage situations.

Jeremy Hill, of course, is fully reinstated to the team. Everybody's going to have their opinions on that one way or another, and it certainly appears that he'll likely still miss some time this season. How much is anybody's guess. What is abundantly clear, however, is that he's the most talented and well-rounded back on this team. He does everything well -- run inside and out, catch and block. He's built to handle a 25-30 touch load and has the speed to turn short yardage plays into long runs, a skill that he displayed often in the second half of 2012, and again this spring. The questions are how much time he will miss, and how much will the time that he's already missed slow him down when he does see the field.

Behind that top three is an intriguing wildcard in junior Terrance Magee (yeah yeah, we say that every year). He's the true change-up of the group, a stocky, shifty bowling-ball type of back that didn't get many touches last season but was on the field in a variety of roles, including as a wide receiver and on special teams. Magee gives the offense a quicker, shiftier type of back that could have a little more value in space through the passing game. It will be interesting to see if Cam Cameron takes advantage of that, especially early on if Hill is on the bench.

The fullback is a bad, bad man. J.C. Copeland may be the best pure fullback in the country, a crushing, vicious blocker that even found a way to be productive with the ball in his hands. And that's a thing that we might see a little more of in 2013, if the scuttlebutt is to be believed. I don't know that he needs to have more than his 21 carries from a year ago, but a little playaction pass to a fullback in the flat can always catch a defense off guard. Backup Connor Neighbors doesn't have Copeland's versatility, but he's a damn strong blocker that can fill in in a pinch.

This position features a lot of known commodities, and for all the intrigue surrounding the new offense, I don't think that there's going to be too many radical changes when it comes to how things go here. If all things are equal, some combination of Blue and Hill will bear the bulk of the workload, with Copeland leading the way. Hilliard will serve as a short-yardage specialist and late-game closer, with Magee in a specialist/third-down role. Also look out for Jeryl Brazil possibly sneaking on to the field as a speed back.

But instead of the optimistic/pessimistic/realistic outlooks for the running backs, I'm just going to leave you with some highlights.





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