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Spring Football Five Things: Running Backs

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Taking a look at what is, for now, the glamour position on this team in 2015.

Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports

Roster/Depth Chart

Tailbacks

7 Leonard Fournette (Soph.)

6-1, 230

187 carries for 1,034 yards (5.5), 7 catches for 127 yards and 24 kick-off returns for 625 yards (26.0) with 11 touchdowns.

34 Darrel Williams (Soph.)

6-0, 230

64 carries for 302 yards (4.7), 6 catches for 63 yards, 1 kick return for 21 yards with 3 touchdowns.

Fullbacks

41 David Ducre (Fr.)

6-0, 239

Four-star recruit.

81 Tony Upchurch (RS-Fr.)

6-1, 230

Redshirted as a wide receiver.

What's good?

Well, the Tigers are returning Leonard Fournette, whose freshman year featured this.

Or, if you prefer,

And these things.

Fournette gives the Tigers not only a bona fide featured back, but a potential superstar in the making. He can do it all -- run inside or out, catch, block, you name it. He's the textbook hammer to make the power-running game go. Last season he got off to a bit of a slow start, but as the season went on the improvement was gradual as the game seemed to slow down for him. He began to learn how to let his blocks develop in front of him a little better and it made a huge difference in conference play. For this offseason, the challenge is to turn more of those "almost" big plays into actual ones. If he can figure out that one extra cut or shoulder-drop, the explosive plays will only increase. This is extremely nit-picky, but I almost wonder if it would be better for him to play closer to 220 pounds than his listed 230 as well.

And behind him, the coaching staff has another hammer in classmate Darrel Williams. Chances are you know at least one person that thought he was clever to suggest that Williams was actually better than Fournette when he hit a few nice short-yardage plays early in the season. He runs with a lower center of gravity, and the type of pad level that makes him perfect for short-yardage situations and to help out as a late-game closer, similar to Kenny Hilliard last year.

There's also the exciting addition of freshman early enrollee David Ducre. He's listed as a fullback, but Ducre has worked with the tailbacks in practices, and is almost certainly going to have a role here as a ball carrier. If it's possible for a runner to be more physically imposing than Fournette, Ducre fits the bill. He looks like 240 pounds of sculpted marble. And he's been timed at 10.5 seconds in the 100-meter dash. If Ducre isn't getting some tailback carries this fall I'll be surprised. It wouldn't even shock me if he pushes for the No. 2 spot.

What's bad?

Well, for all the gushing about Ducre, it does highlight that for the first time in about five years, there really isn't a true blocking fullback on this team. Ducre certainly has the build for it, but lacks experience as a lead blocker. Redshirted receiver Tony Upchurch has transitioned to the spot, and he certainly has the build to it, and some intriguing athleticism. But is a converted wide receiver ready to mix it up with linemen and linebackers in the trenches?

Is that to say that LSU's power running game is sunk? I would certainly hope not. That said, James Stampley, J.C. Copeland and Connor Neighbors have all been valuable assets to this offense in recent years. Not having that type of lead blocker will require some adjustment by the coaching staff.

From a practical standpoint, with just two true scholarship tailbacks on hand, the coaching staff will also have to be conscious of workloads this spring and making sure nobody gets overworked. That will be alleviated in the fall when the freshmen arrive, but for now, it's something the staff will have to keep in mind.

What's the goal this spring?

How do we make this into Leonard Fournette's offense?

He'll have more help in the fall with the freshmen in town, but right now, there's no doubt that he's the man in this backfield. No Terrence Magee to fill in on third down. No Kenny Hilliard to help out in short yardage (Williams will certainly help there, but he's also not as proven yet).

So that means that, in addition to his task at quarterback, Cam Cameron has to craft things to fit his star tailback's skillset. We know what he can do between the tackles, but LSU didn't always do that great of a job of getting No. 7 on the edge. Finding opportunities to get Fournette in some space through the passing game -- where he could also help the quarterbacks as another sure-handed receiver. Honestly, his over-the-shoulder catch versus Ole Miss was one of the better catches any Tiger made last season.

There were some glimpses of it in the Music City Bowl, where LSU set up a lot of passing plays by putting Fournette in motion for some swing passes underneath the coverage. The Irish jumped on it a lot too. Not only would those types of plays fit Fournette incredibly well, but also some of the newcomer backs like Ducre and Derrius Guice.

Additionally, a greater emphasis on the stretch play would also open up the offense to the bootleg passing game or the zone read. And splitting Fournette out some could lead to some jet-sweep opportunities, and also some mismatches versus linebackers.

What am I watching for?

The personnel changes at fullback create an interesting subplot for the offense. It's a pretty safe bet that LSU's never going to completely abandon the two-back set, but Ducre and Upchurch will certainly provide a different look for the staff there.

So what does that mean? More one-back sets? Perhaps some H-back looks involving the tight ends? Fournette has referenced some new blocking schemes, and at the risk of reading too much into it, I wonder what that could mean. Seeing a little more out of the fullback as a runner would be interesting as well. Cameron gave Le'Ron McClain 232 carries from the upback spot in 2008 with the Baltimore Ravens. The thought of Fournette and Ducre being deployed similar to say, the Roger Craig/Tom Rathman combination with the San Francisco 49ers in the 80s? That could be fun.