With no Jacob Hester, the running back corps is going to look a little different than it did last year. Hester was definitely a grind-it-out running back who was as reliable as a Honda Accord. For all the talk of us being a running back by committee, Hester got more than half the carries from the running back position in 2007. He carried the load for us, and was in many ways as good of a running back as any we've had here in a long time.
Now without him, we will turn to the 3-headed monster that backed him up.
From left to right up above, we have sophomore Richard Murphy, junior Charles Scott, and junior Keiland Williams. We do not, as yet, know who will be the primary running back for this year, but it's likely that one of these three will lead the team in carries.
Richard Murphy is a tantalizing running back. He's less experienced than the other two, and he's significantly lighter than either Keiland or Charles Scott at 198 pounds, though I've heard he may have bulked up this off-season. He's awfully shifty, and knows how to get through the hole and into space. Once in space, he has break-away speed. It has long been speculated that despite his relative lack of carries (35 career carries for him vs. 146 carries for Keiland Williams and 91 career carries for Charles Scott), Murphy may well be the best and most complete running back on the roster. He's one of the very best athletes on the team. He has certainly looked good when given a chance, averaging 6.6 yards per carry, and not just in garbage time. Despite being the least-used of LSU's running backs last year, he was given some key assignments, including getting the ball down the stretch against Auburn.
Charles Scott has a reputation as a bruiser, and in that respect is the heir apparent to the power runner job vacated by Hester. Scott certainly looks the part at 5'11" and 221 pounds, but he also averaged a whopping 7.2 yards per carry in 2007, most among the running backs. He's not as polished as Hester was as a senior, but last year he was more polished than Hester was a sophomore. If he continues developing, he could be the next Hester. Last year, Charles Scott got a lot of playing time in passing situations, as he proved to be both an able receiver (12 catches for 115 yards and 2 touchdowns) and a very good pass blocker. Scott's probably the headiest of the running backs on the roster, and while his physical tools are probably not as good as Murphy's or Keiland's, his steadiness may make him indispensable.
Keiland Williams is the game-breaker. He can be counted on for the occasional electrifying run. Case Study #1:
Case Study #2
Keiland gets a lot of big runs, but he has yet to develop the consistency in getting the tough yardage. With Keiland, it seems to be a big run or a wasted down. I am perhaps exaggerating just a little, and even if it is true, it's important to remember that Keiland just finished his sophomore year. There is time to learn to do the little things right. You may be able to teach technique, but you can't teach speed, and you can't teach size. Keiland has great size at 5'11" 223 pounds. He could be more of a power runner if he chose, and he would be deadly if he could be both powerful and fast.
Sometimes, it is difficult to remember that running back is a position where players have to learn a few things. Players develop and get better. Jacob Hester is the perfect example.
I would be remiss here if I didn't mention Trindon Holliday. People consider him a change-of-pace and trick-play back, but he actually was 3rd on the team in both rushing yards and rushing attempts (among running backs). He may be the fastest college football player ever, but he's also pretty darn fearless. He will go up the middle of the defense. He will take a hit. Probably moreso than you'd really like him to. Trindon's a little guy, but he doesn't want to be limited to little guy play.
I think we'll see just as much Trindon at running back this year as we did last year, when he had 53 rushes for 364 yards and two touchdowns. You may see him more in the receiving game as well. LSUsports.net actually lists him as a wide receiver, even though he has 67 career rushes and only 2 career catches. Don't be surprised if they try to mix Trindon in a little more in the passing game either from the tailback or the receiver position.
This is Quinn Johnson. He's the senior fullback. He blocks. He catches the occasional pass out of the backfield. He's a leader on special teams. He's an invaluable part of the offense, an important cog in the machine, but hardly a headline maker. He'll be hard to replace when he's gone though.
This is a new face. It is Stevan Ridley, a redshirt freshman tailback/fullback hybrid who is maybe the true heir to Jacob Hester's role, but I think he will have to wait another year or so.
Ridley's a guy who was recruited out of the smallest, most rinky-dink league in Mississippi. He was originally recruited with the expectation that he would be a linebacker, but the coaches promised him they'd give him a shot at running back. They did, and he stuck.
Word last year was that Ridley was a very impressive running back, in the Jacob Hester mold of being a sure-handed power runner who could also block and who was good catching the ball. With our depth, though, he had the luxury of sitting for a year and keeping his eligibility.
Barring injury to the more experienced backs, I think Ridley is mostly going to play in garbage time and on special teams, where I think he will excel blocking and covering for kicks.