Pieces of the puzzle: Spencer Ware

With 2011 pre-season camp now in full swing, TigerSportsDigest.com will take a daily look at the key players who will play major roles in LSU's bid at a national championship -- the pieces of the puzzle.

With some athletes, the process of climbing into a more prominent role often comes with a change in attitude.

Maybe a little more swagger, a little cockiness mingled in with a sense of entitlement chaser.

Then there's Spencer Ware.

From all indications, the LSU sophomore seems bound for stardom.

Poised to be the next great Tigers' running back, this one with at least two years ahead of him to shoulder a role as a leader on an offense bustling with skill-position talent.

With Stevan Ridley's appearance in the 2011 Cotton Bowl in limbo last January as he served an NCAA suspension with an uncertain resolution, it was Ware who the LSU coaches prepared to be the go-to back against Texas A&M.

Ridley got cleared and played a solid game against the Aggies, rushing for 105 yards and a touchdown in the Tigers' 41-24 triumph. But Ware also broke out and served notice that he should be a handful for SEC defenses this season.

Quietly, though, and almost as an afterthought to Ridley, Jordan Jefferson's three touchdown passes and Terrence Toliver's 112 receiving yards and three scoring grabs.

But Ware's 102 rushing yards on 10 carries into the teeth of an A&M rush defense that was supposed to be a hindrance was a key component in a 446-yard outburst. He proved to be the perfect change-of-pace complement to Ridley's bullish, run-you-over approach.

Ware's response to his big night on the national stage against a high-profile foe?

"That's what I was supposed to do," Ware said. "Our offensive line played a great game and that made it easy for me and Stevan."

That matter-of-fact attitude and even-keeled approach is typical Ware.

LSU running back Spencer Ware is in line to get the first shot as the starter and go-to-back this season.
The least known (but perhaps most heralded) member of a young running back core group when the 2010 season began, Ware focused on keeping his head down and working hard. He got on the field early – if not all that often – and seemed to make a splash every time his number was called.

With Ridley firmly entrenched as the primary back and Michael Ford the apple of the fan base's eye, Ware trotted onto the field as a fullback when needed, caught passes out of the backfield (10 for 101 yards) and even hoisted a touchdown pass of 39 yards to Rueben Randle on a halfback pass that tied the game against Auburn in the fourth quarter.

That dazzling array of abilities set Ware apart from fellow freshmen Alfred Blue and Jakhari Gore last season and appear to give him a foot up on them and Ford in the battle for carries this fall.

"I'm versatile," Ware said without a hint of ego. "I can catch the ball, I can block, I can run inside, I like to run outside, I can block. I'll do whatever I can to help us win."

In short, Ware doesn't need to come off the field in any situation and that hasn't gone unnoticed.

During the first few days of fall camp, Ware has quickly emerged as a leader when the offense comes together.

"Spencer has a chance to have a great year," Jefferson said. "He's going to get the ball a lot and we need him to make plays."

Ware insists he hasn't nailed down the starting job, saying "Everybody is going to get their chance and you just have to be ready to have to seize your moment."

But the latest turn of events with the LSU offense doesn't figure to damage Ware's spot in the running back pecking order.

With Greg Studrawa installed as the offensive coordinator in the wake of the news of Steve Kragthorpe's diagnosis with Parkinson's disease, it's possible – perhaps likely – that the offense will shift to a more run-oriented scheme.

Studrawa has climbed the coaching ladder as an offensive line coach and is closest to head coach Les Miles in terms of offensive philosophy.

"In this conference, you've got to be physical and be able to run the football," Studrawa said Friday in his first session with the media since taking over as the OC.

It's not like Ware and Studrawa need a getting-to-know-you session, either. Like Ware, Studrawa is a native Ohioan and was the lead recruiter for the former dual-threat quarterback at Cincinnati's Princeton High.

The two share a love of Cincinnati's famous cuisine, Skyline Chili. Studrawa understands Ware when he says he wants a pop or utters any other Midwestern jargon and they both have an affinity for running the ball, but also don't mind putting it in the air when needed.

"LSU has always had a running game with a downhill mentality, especially in the short yardage game," Ware said. "We have a really good offensive line back, we have veterans everywhere else and we have backs who can make things happen when we have the ball in our hands."

And if form holds true, the leader of those backs will be you-know-who, even if he won't be brash about saying so.

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