That LSU will rely heavily on its ground game in 2015 comes as no shock to anyone that's followed the program lately.
But the offensive slant isn't just due to a muddled quarterback situation.
The Tigers will happily go ground and pound with offensive line a position of strength and two returning running backs that recently completed a dominant spring.
Sophomores Leonard Fournette and Darrel Williams both showed they can shoulder the load within LSU's offense, according to teammates and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron.
"Really it doesn’t matter who’s in there. I’ll take either one of them," quarterback Brandon Harris told reporters recently. "Darrel gets in there and there’s no drop-off at all. Of course Leonard’s faster and taller. Darrel is bigger as far as mass-wise, but there’s no drop-off, period."
Cameron indicated Fournette, who set an LSU freshman rushing record in 2014 with 1,034 yards, is growing not only as a player but as a team leader.
"He never got full of himself or tried to speak up when he shouldn’t speak up. He never spoke up at the wrong time last year," recalled Cameron. "If he ever spoke up, it was right when you’d say 'You know what, that was the right time for him to say something.' He never forced his leadership last year because he was just trying to grow and he was a freshman.
"Now you can sense he’s looking around and seeing a lot of young guys and sensing people are looking for leadership from him, and he’s just the man for the job ... By the time he leaves here he’s not only going to be a great player, he’s going to be a great leader. You can see that starting to happen."
Williams lacked the prep hype of fellow New Orleanian Fournette, who's down 15 pounds this spring, but the John Ehret product is turning heads after a freshman campaign that saw him rush for 302 yards and three touchdowns playing both fullback and tailback.
Per Harris: "Darrel is just as good as any back I’ve ever seen. He can do everything. Leonard is faster, but Darrel can do anything from blocking to receiving. He’s unreal. Darrel and Leonard got an opportunity to see Kenny Hilliard and Terrence Magee do it at the highest level last year. Now they’re going out there to execute and show what they can do. People don’t understand it. Leonard gets all the accolades because he’s really great, but Darrel is outstanding. He’s really good."
Added Cameron, specifically on Williams' understanding of the nuances of LSU's offense: "Darrel in his own right is having as good a spring as anyone. Their skill set is similar but different in some ways. He’s an outstanding back. He’s extremely bright and an extremely good receiver. I don’t think he has the long speed maybe that Leonard does, but he’s fast. He’s got short-area quickness, great vision, understands running schemes and he has natural timing, from any set. All the sets we run, he knows how to make that subtle adjustment and create timing with the guards and the tackles and the tight ends."
The success of LSU's two lead backs, separated by one inch and no weight according to the official roster, is predicated on learning in the position room.
That environment - and competitive spirit - has been created and fostered by an LSU assistant coach, Cameron reminded.
"What we do with our running backs is not by accident," continued Cameron. "It’s Frank Wilson and his ability to teach complex things and make it simple and get his guys to play fast and physical and at a high level. He’s got a great mentor in his meeting room, Leonard does, in Frank.
"Frank has built that room so that the Jeremy Hills and Alfred Blues and now Terrence and Kenny, they are in constant contact with each other. So there’s like this expectation and they pass the torch to those guys, and they feel a responsibility – not just to LSU and our program and our state, but to the room. That’s when you know you’ve got a coach that’s special because he’s creating something that’s obviously going to help you win."
Aiding the torch-passing is an attack by numbers, something Wilson has crafted for the LSU program to keep backs fresh in-game, in-season and ultimately when NFL Draft time arrives.
Cameron knows that even with Fournette and his special talents in tow, that tradition will continue this fall, with Williams proving himself and signees Nicholas Brossette and Derrius Guice entering the mix.
"Our philosophy here is running back depth and multiple guys playing at a high level," Cameron concluded. "Both guys have just had outstanding springs."
Fournette capped off spring ball with eight carries for 42 yards in the annual spring game while Williams, suiting up for both teams, totaled 10 carries for 40 yards and a first-half touchdown and caught two passes for 27 yards.
Neither featured much in the second half. That's something LSU fans won't have to get used to in the upcoming season.
Running backs shined for LSU all spring
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