As long as Les Miles is head coach, LSU will be a power running team first and foremost. Last year, Jeremy Hill bludgeoned his way to 1,400 yards, more than any back in the Les Miles era. Hill has taken his abilities to the NFL, leaving just Terrence Magee & Kenny Hilliard to tote the rock…for now. I say that because I’ve probably already wasted too many words talking about LSU running backs and not mentioning incoming all-world running back Leonard Fournette. Les Miles essentially bet the farm on Fournette by not recruiting a single running back in the previous recruiting cycle.
So, with Fournette not on campus until the fall, is there much to glean from the running backs this spring?
|Terrence Magee||Sr.||626 yards, 7.28 YPC, 8 TDs in 2013|
|Kenny Hilliard||Sr.||310 yards, 4.56 YPC, 7 TDs in 2013|
|Conner Neighbors||Sr.||7 catches, 92 yards, granted 5th year of eligibility.|
How they fared last season
Last year was the Jeremy Hill Show. Les Miles never likes to lean on one back, but Hill was the bell cow last season. Even being suspended the first game of the year & going into mysterious dry spells, he still ranks as the best running back of the Les Miles era.
Terrence Magee shouldered the load for Hill to start the year, opening with a bang against TCU. Magee rushed for 95 yards in that game and would crest 100 on three occasions in 2013. While not the standard big bruiser back that Miles favors, Magee was a nice change of pace, with his compact frame & good top end speed.
Kenny Hilliard has never been able to fully regain his 2011 freshman season form, where he rushed for 233 yards over the final 3 games of the regular season. It seems Hilliard has been relegated to the role of goal line bruiser, as attested by his relatively average yards-per-carry and 7 touchdowns, which was third best on the team.
LSU also loses wrecking ball fullback J.C. Copeland. Copeland’s mass & ferocity made for a fantastic lead blocker, but for varying reasons he began to lose his job to Conner Neighbors as the season wore on. Neighbors, while not the huge mass of humanity that Copeland is, provided solid blocking ability & showed the ability to catch the ball a bit out of the backfield. Getting Neighbors back for a 5th year is huge for the running game, as a seasoned vet opening holes will be a boon to the incoming freshmen like Fournette & Darrel Williams.
The don’t-break-anything spring
If anything, this spring is just a waiting game. We know what we have now–two very capable running backs who could carry the Tiger backfield next season if needed. But, being the only two backs on the team means this spring they must be kept healthy. First and foremost Magee & Hilliard should be handled with kid gloves. If it were me, I’d wrap them in bubble wrap and store until the fall. LSU has placed a very large bet on Leonard Fournette, if anything happens to another back on the team the Tigers are dangerously thin.
Like I’ve said, this spring is not about getting the running backs any reps or learning anything new. It’s about waiting for Leonard Fournette to arrive in the fall. While he probably won’t start immediately, it’s hard to not envision Fournette getting a significant number of carries in the first game against Wisconsin.
Magee & Hilliard will provide different experiences from Fournette, which means the LSU offense will be able to substitute RBs & give opposing team different looks every time. Fournette is everything you want in a running back, while Magee provides that wiggly-burst and Hilliard an up-the-middle bruiser.
The running back position will take shape in the fall. We’ll get to see how Fournette plays into the rotation & will get to see how Miles plans on using incumbents Magee & Hilliard. Until then, LSU wants to just keep everyone healthy.