Season preview: Running backs

Can Spencer Ware pick up where he left off in the Cotton Bowl? breaks down what to expect at the running back position.

Spencer Ware might be a sophomore without a college start under his belt, but the former five-star prospect has the confidence of an SEC veteran.

Playing behind Stevan Ridley, the offense’s workhorse in 2010, Ware’s freshman campaign resulted in 175 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries and 101 yards on 10 receptions.

But it wasn’t season stats that left LSU fans wanting more.

It was moments like the Auburn game, when Jefferson tossed the ball wide to Ware and Ware tossed the ball downfield to Rueben Randle – for six points.

Or the second half of the Texas A&M game, when Ware touched the ball 10 times and ran over and around TAMU defenders for 101 yards.

Those 10 carries left no doubt that Ware was the favorite for the starting job once Ridley jumped for the NFL, but the debate rages on as to where the staff turns from there.

Discussion begins with Michael Ford, a running back whose here-and-there playing time has left some restless fans tired of asking for answers. For those fans, that lesson was learned with Keiland Williams.

Ford was redshirted in 2009 and saw action in 10 games last fall, where he earned starts against Louisiana-Monroe and Arkansas.

Like Ware, there weren’t consistent snaps, but there were flashes of brilliance.

Ford took the second catch of his career for a 27-yard touchdown against Ole Miss, and on 10 carries against McNeese State he led all rushers with 86 yards and two touchdowns.

Then there’s Alfred Blue and Jakhari Gore, the two change-of-pace backs in the group.

At 6-foot-2, 215-pounds, Blue is built like a linebacker but is among the fastest runners in the backfield. He’s also a favorite of running backs coach Frank Wilson, which should give Blue a few extra carries if he catches rhythm.

At 5-foot-9, 166-pounds, Gore is the smallest running back, but don’t be quick to label him as an outside runner.

“I love tacking it in between the tackles,” Gore said. “It’s the SEC, and I want to show I can be as physical as anyone.”

Add in the addition of freshmen Terrance Magee and Kenny Hilliard and the running back position is as deep as any in the SEC, which gives first-year offensive coordinator Greg Studrawa a number of promising options at his disposal.

“We are fortunate to have three or four guys this year that each have different tools,” Studrawa said. “One is big, some are lighter and some can catch the ball out of the backfield. We want to take advantage of their abilities the best we can.

“We will have different running plays and schemes where we can use the talents of those guys and do what is best for us and them. We are going to mix and match these guys and try to use their abilities all at the same time.”

While each running back will get a chance to prove their worth, Studrawa won’t fall into a permanent shift of backs – at least not if one runner separates himself from the rest of the field.

“Something we saw from Stevan Ridley last year was that when a guy gets hot, keep him in,” Studrawa said.

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