LSU Spring Football Five Questions: Running Backs

Sean Gardner

Is spring practice a little anti-climactic at this position?

Roster/Depth Chart

Tailbacks

14 Terrence Magee (Jr.)

5-9, 214

86 carries for 626 yards (7.3 ypc) and 8 touchdowns, 6 catches for 49 yards.

27 Kenny Hilliard (Sr.)

6-0, 233

68 carries for 310 yards (4.6) and 7 touchdowns.

Fullbacks

43 Connor Neighbors (Sr.)

5-11, 239

2 carries for zero yards, 7 catches for 92 yards.

49 Melvin Jones (Soph.)

6-3, 245

Played in 9 games with 1 catch for 7 yards and a touchdown.

What's Good?

Um...have we mentioned Leonard Fournette? I'm pretty sure we have. Are you #suspect? You should look into that.

...

...

...

/throws up BugaNation sign

Seriously though, virtually every personnel move the LSU coaching staff has made for the last two years has been geared towards the arrival of the best running back recruit Louisiana has produced in a generation this summer. That isn't to say what happens this spring is irrelevant, just that the most important cog in the running machine isn't on hand yet.

I hate that it sounds disrespectful to Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard, but thems is the breaks. Thing is, as returning tailback tandems go, you can do a whole lot worse than a duo that combined for 936 yards and 13 touchdowns at 6.9 yards per attempt.

Magee did a pretty underrated job as Jeremy Hill's backup last season, averaging 7.3 ypc on the season and putting up three 100-yard games on his own, including 149 yards on just 13 carries versus Texas A&M. Magee isn't quite a "scatback" per se, but he's a little quicker in the open field than the typical one-cut bruiser we've become used to as a Tiger running back. He's got the feet to be a more creative runner, and at 215 pounds it's not like he's a shrinking violet at contact. He's also spent some time at receiver, an aspect of his game that could get some more play this season.

He's joined by senior Kenny Hilliard, who has still never found the form he showed at the end of his freshman year, but has managed to carve out a niche for himself as a short-yardage specialist and late-game hammer. Now, with a depth chart that will still be a little thinner than we'd like in the fall, he'll be even more important picking up those third-and-shorts and goal-line situations, as well as spelling Magee and Fournette from time to time and taking some of the late-game pounding for them in blowouts.

Fellow senior Connor Neighbors is back at fullback, a crucial returnee who managed to pick up an extra year of eligibility from the NCAA. He, for all intents and purposes, took J.C. Copeland's starting fullback job last season with a much better understanding of his assignments. He may not be the pile-driver that Copeland is, but Neighbors has always been a strong, capable blocker. He may not be the same threat to carry the ball, but Neighbors also found a way to do some damage as a receiver in the flat as well.

He'll be backed up by converted linebacker Melvin Jones, who was respectable at the job when asked and even managed to snag a touchdown pass. Look for his role to increase. He's even taking some carries as a tailback this spring. That's mostly a numbers move, but training him to work with the ball in his hands has its benefits as well.

What's Bad?

Two scholarship tailbacks. TWO. That's what LSU has on the roster this spring. Please, please wrap Hilliard and Magee in bubble wrap. It's one thing for Fournette to come on to campus and take the running back by storm. It's another thing to toss him into the deep end of the pool and ask him to carry the running back position.

Was it the right move, essentially mortgaging running back depth (passing on all running backs in the class of 2013) to join #BugaNation? Guess that depends on whether or not it pans out. We know that offering a more open depth chart was very enticing to Fournette, including Miles hinting at it back on National Signing Day in 2013. It's damn sure a gamble, but then it's not just your typical stud running back recruit, either.

What's the Goal this Spring?

Um...keeping everybody on the above list healthy. Period. End of sentence. Literally.

What am I Watching For?

With a loaded offensive line back, these experienced tailbacks and an evolving quarterback situation, I'm very interested in how this running game develops. While I don't think that the offense will look all that different principally -- still heavy on the 21 and 22 personnel, power/zone running and play-action passing -- a more mobile look at quarterback (even Hayden Rettig is no statue back there), could lead to a few more spread running looks or some pistol. It's not a radical change really (the zone-read is just a shotgun/pistol zone play with the quarterback's option to keep the ball in addition to the handoff), but it's a certainly something to watch.

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