There is a popular football adage proclaiming that a team can never have too many running backs. The 2012 LSU Tigers appear to take this approach to heart and live by it. Religiously.
With six running backs engaged in a furiously competitive position battle throughout fall camp, the Tigers’ ball carrier depth chart seemingly continues to flow on and on down the page. Head coach Les Miles stated at SEC Media Days that he would like to trim his rotation down to two primary ball carriers who would receive the bulk of the carries this season. Good luck with that.
At the top of the list is last year’s incumbent starter, Spencer Ware. The 225-pound junior brings a battering ram mentality to the running back position. In 2011, Ware did the heavy lifting for the Tigers’ offense, making a routine habit of slamming into a defender’s chest with no intentions of avoiding the tackler. Although Tiger fans have grown to love his punishing running style, Ware needs to improve his vision and elusiveness in 2012, or he may find his playing time reduced.
One of Ware’s top challengers is sophomore Kenny Hilliard. He turned heads last season as a true freshman while filling in for a suspended Ware in the Auburn game, and subsequently turned in a three-touchdown performance against Georgia in the SEC Championship. Not many running backs can claim to have lost 15 pounds and still weigh in at a svelte 231, but Hilliard is one of them. Many fans and media members consider him to be the logical frontrunner for the starting position, and some view him as a potential superstar in the making.
As a compliment to the bruisers, Alfred Blue adds a big play threat to the Tiger backfield. At 6’2,” he exceeds the usual height of a running back, but still finds himself in the mix to be named the starter. In ripping off several long runs in 2011, Blue demonstrated that in a stable of big, physical running backs, he stands on his own in terms of elusiveness and break-away ability.
Meanwhile, the most talented all-around runner on the Tigers’ roster could be freshman Jeremy Hill. The largest of all the LSU backs at 6-feet, 235 pounds, Hill has been the talk of fall camp. While he has not seen any live game action like his counterparts, reports from scrimmages indicate that Hill possesses a rare combination of speed, vision, and power.
The forgotten man of the group seems to be senior Michael Ford. As a change-of-pace back, he demonstrated big-play capability last season, and was often paired with quarterback Jordan Jefferson on option plays. Whether Ford can garner as much playing time with pro-style quarterback Zach Mettenberger remains to be seen.
Sophomore Terrance Magee may be the odd man out in this race for playing time. Magee showed promise in limited snaps in 2011, but, barring injuries, the long list of backs ahead of him appears to be too much to overcome, at least this season.
Perhaps the biggest perk any of these tailbacks will enjoy this season will be following Tiger fullback J.C. Copeland through the hole. In the interest of gaining quickness, the 270-pound Copeland has shed over 25 pounds from his nearly 300-pound frame this offseason, and has broken over 30 facemasks so far in fall drills.
In playing one of the most physically demanding positions, running backs take repeated poundings throughout the course of a game. This is especially true at LSU, where Les Miles has established the “I” formation downhill running attack as the bread and butter of his offense. Injuries often occur at the position, and depth is needed to weather the demanding grind of the SEC. With that in mind, the LSU Tigers appear to be more than ready for it with a true stable of impressive ball carriers.
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