TSD is back with the second installment of our early position-by-position preview of the 2013 LSU football. Today we're taking a peak into Frank Wilson's backfield.
At the bottom of this post is a link to yesterday's outlook on the quarterback position.
Without further ado, here's my analysis on how the running backs and fullbacks project for next season.
Returning Players at RB: Michael Ford (Sr.), Alfred Blue (Sr.*), Kenny Hilliard (Jr.), Jeremy Hill (So.)
Added Recruits at RB: None
Starter at RB: Jeremy Hill (incumbent)
Darkhorse at RB: Alfred Blue
* = Player will be a senior if no redshirt year is granted for 2012 season.
Returning Players at FB: J.C. Copeland (Sr.), Connor Neighbors (Jr.)
Added Recruit at FB: Kennard Swanson (will enter as a freshman)
Starter at FB: J.C. Copeland (incumbent)
Darkhorse at FB: Connor Neighbors
The stable will still be full in the offensive backfield in 2013, but, for the first time in a while, the bountiful number of backs is starting to dwindle down. So many of the familiar faces who've toted the rock for LSU the past three years are beginning to near graduation, the NFL, what have you.
I expect Spencer Ware to be the latest attrition casualty along those lines. The junior from Cincinnati does have another remaining year of eligibility, but all indications are that the time has come for him to test the NFL Draft waters. The reasons behind this move are many in number. Ware, as we've touched on here before, has had his issues off the field (even though he's been a solid teammate). His is also the kind of physical brand of running that takes a major toll on the body. One more year in college will only serve to put more miles on Ware's engine.
Assuming that No. 11 heads off for pro-er pastures, LSU has four experienced backs to lean on in 2013 (five if converted wide receiver Terrence Magee is needed in a pinch). And if 2012 has confirmed anything, it's that Les Miles wants to be able to rely on two backs at a time.
In 2011 the composition of who those two were changed throughout the season and throughout the games themselves. Spencer Ware (177 carries, 707 yards, 8 TD) was the bell cow the first half of the season. Kenny Hilliard (62 carries, 336 yards, 8 TD) carried the torch the second half of the season. Michael Ford (127 carries, 756 yards, 7 TD) played the role of second-half rusher, running around tired legs. And Alfred Blue (78 carries, 539 yards, 7 TD) tidied up whatever was left over, doing much of his damage in lower-level non-conference contests.
In 2012 there was some fluctuation, but once the rotation was set it was a lot firmer than the season prior. Blue (40 carries, 270 yards, 2 TD) and Hilliard (80 carries, 456 yards, 6 TD) exited Fall Camp as the two guys Miles/Wilson liked best, but Blue went out for the year with an injury against Idaho and Hilliard trailed off, dealing with an injury of his own reportedly.
Jeremy Hill (130 carries, 631 yards, 10 TD) emerged as the lead back in Blue's absence and still is going into bowl season. The freshman has been nothing short of outstanding, becoming the first frosh to notch 10 rushing scores in a season since Justin Vincent in 2003. His partner in crime has mostly been Ware (91 carries, 358 yards, 1 TD), who has also been very effective in the passing game, ranking as the team's fifth leading receiver (15 catches, 212 yards, 1 TD).
In the absence of Blue, Hill and Ware also gave LSU the pass-blocking presences the Tigers desperately needed with an offensive line which played musical chairs three times over. Ford (69 carries, 393 yards, 3 TD) has factored in some, but not nearly as much as in 2011.
Carrying the theme forward, I expect a healthy Blue and Hill to be the tandem LSU begins with in 2013. Ford will be around as a senior to absorb many of the speed-based responsibilities, even soaking up much of what Russell Shepard used to do. Hilliard may end up as a reliable option inside the red zone and take some snaps at fullback. But Blue and Hill are the best options for what LSU wants to do. They have the right mix of size, power and speed. Both can pass block very well, and both have picked up on the nuances of the offense.
At fullback J.C. Copeland returns for his final season playing wrecking ball behind the LSU offensive line. And, in 2012, he added to his repertoire by carrying the ball more often. Copeland currently has 67 yards and four touchdowns, third highest total on the team, on 21 carries. Look for the converted defensive tackle to continue his blocking – and short-yardage carrying – ways in 2013. He remains one of the most dominant players at any given position on the LSU team. Copeland's primary task in 2013 will be cutting down on personal foul penalties.
His backup this season, Connor Neighbors, will also return in 2013. Neighbors will be in his junior season, and I expect the Huntsville, Ala., native to continue to earn more and more time and respect. He's filled in admirably for stretches of time in SEC play this season when Copeland has needed a rest. All that being said, it makes Neighbors about as experienced a backup fullback as you could ask for on the college level.
Finally, we end with a bit of a question mark: Kennard Swanson.
The plan was, has been and is for LSU to take the high school defensive tackle from Lakeland, Fla., and convert him to a fullback once he gets to TigerTown. It worked with Copeland. Why can't it work with Swanson (6-0, 255)? That's not the question, though. The real question is will Swanson remain a Tiger come National Signing Day despite finally picking up a recent offer from the in-state Florida Gators.
The LSU commitment has given no indication at this point that he's wavering on his verbal, but it's something to monitor over the next few months. Should he stay on the path to Baton Rouge, Tiger fans should consider this great news. Swanson will have a year to learn from Copeland before being turned loose as LSU's next blocking fullback in 2014.
Previous 2013 Position Outlooks
2013 Position Preview: Running Backs
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