Wilson wants production in backfield

In his time at LSU, running backs coach Frank Wilson has been equally open to using a lead back as well as running back by committee. Inside he tells TSD's Ben Love which of the two he prefers and how the 2013 backfield is shaping up through four games.

The system for playing time in LSU's backfield under running backs coach Frank Wilson is that there is no system.

Best player plays. It really is that simple and can – and does – change from snap to snap and game to game, according to Wilson, who uses the word produce more than a grocery store manager.

In 2010, Wilson's first full season with LSU, the Tigers leaned heavily on Stevan Ridley, who rode his lead-back role all the way to 1,147 yards and 15 touchdowns on the ground. The two seasons that followed saw Wilson deploy multiple backs in varying ways, with combinations of Spencer Ware, Michael Ford, Kenny Hilliard, Alfred Blue and Jeremy Hill carrying the load by committee.

How that shakes out in a given year, explained Wilson in an interview with TSD, is ultimately up to the players themselves.

"I think those guys determine that," said Wilson. "Whenever someone's able to go in and do the things that we're asking to be done in all situations, they give themselves an opportunity to get the lion's share of the duties. When we have guys that have a strength in one particular thing and maybe not in another, we're looking for the maximum production. If we can get that from one guy, then he'll be our guy. If we're not getting all that from any one guy, then we'll run by committee. I mean if it takes all four to get it done, we'll use all four.

"It's just about the production we have to get out of the position."

And either way is equally okay in Wilson's mind. "I don't (have a preference). As long as we're productive, we're content with that. And we'll do whatever we have to do to get there."

The whole topic of lead back versus RB by committee has become a salient matter of late, as Jeremy Hill, who was withheld from play in the opener against TCU, has come on like a man on fire in recent weeks since Les Miles let Hill off the leash.

Hill, undoubtedly LSU's best back in the second half of the 2012 season and through spring practice, was at his best in the Tigers' 35-21 win over Auburn on Saturday. The sophomore back rushed for 183 yards and three touchdowns on 25 carries. Wilson said it's "the hunger" from Hill that has him back on top of the pack.

"He wants to compete, and he wants to do well," Wilson explained. "He's getting himself into the playing shape where he needs to be. Certainly anyone that's been away from the program for several months won't be able to have the type of conditioning that's ideal. With him even training on his own while he was away from the team, it has not allowed him to be where he needs to be. So I think he's finally started to work himself into good playing shape, and he's poised right now to have a good season."

While Hill was running over and around War Eagle defenders, the rest of LSU's talented backfield stable hardly got out of the barn in the team's SEC opener.

The trio of Blue, Hilliard and Terrence Magee combined for 11 carries for 45 yards and a fumble lost by Magee, who just a game prior had stamped his claim to the No. 2 spot in LSU's running back depth chart, one Wilson reminds is "etched in sand."

"We'll need all of them. It's a long season, and we have total confidence that they're all in positions to have productive seasons," continued Wilson. "Certainly we don't think that we can go the remainder of the season with one guy, so we haven't given up on any of these guys. We still anticipate all of them participating and contributing in a fashion that's game-by-game. We'll let it kind of unveil itself, but we're very much still high on all three of the other guys."

Wilson spoke to the individual situations of Blue and Hilliard, as the former is still finding his way back from a knee injury suffered a season ago and the latter has seen a significant drop-off in his play since dealing with "personal" matters in the past year.

On Blue: "He's working his behind off to try to get himself in position to have a productive season. Yesterday was probably one of his better days (at practice). When you're coming back with that knee, even with all the therapy, there's nothing like live contact against an opponent at game speed. So it's about him getting his footing back, cutting at full speed and engaging in contact. It's taking time, but it looks like he's back now, so we'll see how it goes from now until the end of the season."

On Hilliard, who became a father of twin girls during the 2012 season: "The social or personal things behind it, he's working diligently on. As a team we're fortunate because we've been able to get production out of other guys, but Kenny's doing well. All of these guys at some point, I'm sure we'll be having a conversation talking about how well they stepped up and produced for us. But we anticipate Kenny to be here for the long haul."

Under Wilson, it's clear LSU isn't afraid to experiment. Even at fullback the Tigers have relied on two different options through four games this season, the first time LSU has had the luxury of doing that since James Stampley graduated.

The newcomer to the fold in 2013 has been senior Connor Neighbors, who Wilson said earned his stripes this offseason both physically and mentally.

"He got bigger, faster and stronger, and, just as important, he mastered the offense," Wilson said. "So now he's able to go in and give us some leadership at the position to go along with J.C. [Copeland] and complement him. We don't miss a beat whether J.C. or Connor is in at fullback."

Finally, Wilson, also LSU's recruiting coordinator, told TSD that the Tigers will continue to recruit the same type of back in new coordinator Cam Cameron's offense.

"It's the same back – the prototypical guy," described Wilson. "We're still recruiting the types of backs that are SEC, top-end guys that have NFL potential. We'll continue to recruit to that standard."

Just how much the backs of the future – or present, for that matter – will share the pie back there is an unknown. See, right when you think you've figured out LSU's backfield rotation, it changes.

That seems to be just how Frank Wilson likes it.

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