Spring Preview: Running Backs

The LSU Tigers go into the spring with depth at running back once more, seeing the unit return in full force after Charles Scott decided to opt out of the NFL draft and return for his final year with the Tigers.

Note: This is part two of a series that takes a look at each position heading into spring camp.

 

 

Projected Depth Chart

 

Running Back

32 – Charles Scott         5-11, 233, Sr.   Saline (La.)

5   Keiland Williams     5-11, 229, Sr.   Lafayette (La.)

26 –  Richard Murphy     6-1, 196, Jr.      Rayville (La.)

8 –   Trindon Holliday     5-5, 164, Sr.     Zachary (La.)   

33 –  Drayton Calhoun   6-0, 175, Fr.      Clarkston (Ga.)

 

Fullback

34 –  Stevan Ridley        5-11, 222, So.   Natchez (Miss.)

 

 

The 2008 season was shaky for the Tiger offense through the air. Yet, head coach Les Miles often found success on the ground courtesy of a trio of backs. Though Scott returns as the primary ball carrier, senior Keiland Williams and redshirt junior Richard Murphy both look to make their biggest mark to date.

 

A Look Back

 

As a team, the Tigers amassed just short of 2,200 yards last season. The disparity between ball carriers was evident, seeing 757 yards and 16 touchdowns separate Scott and Williams, the team’s two leading rushers.

 

Scott finished his breakout season with 1,174 yards and 18 touchdowns on 217 carries. His performance marked only the 12th time in school history that LSU had a 1,000 yard rusher.

 

The Saline-native went over the 100-yard mark six times, also recording multiple touchdown games on six occasions. Against Georgia Tech in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl, Scott totaled 65 yards and three touchdowns on 15 carries, breaking open the floodgates for the Tigers to secure a 38-3 blowout win.

 

Williams rushed for 417 yards and two touchdowns on 83 attempts during his campaign, finishing in the 400-500 yard range for the third season in a row. The Lafayette-native saw his rush average drop, however, from 6.8 to 5.0 yards per carry.  His most impressive performance came during Alabama head coach Nick Saban’s return to Death Valley, seeing Williams carry the ball 13 times for 88 yards in the overtime loss.



Richard Murphy

Murphy toted the rock just 44 times on the season, totaling 186 yards without ever finding the end zone.  The Rayville-product’s most effective outing came against Tulane, slashing the Green Wave defense for 54 yards on 12 carries in relief duty.

 

And, of course, there’s Trindon Holliday. The speedster from Zachary rushed only 21 times for 114 yards, but everyone in the SEC knows just how dangerous he is when he gets the ball in his hands.

 

LSU had the conference’s fourth best rushing attack at 166.8 yards per game and fullback Quinn Johnson deserves some credit for that mark. Johnson, who is now preparing for April’s NFL draft, leaves the Tigers after finishing second on the team in rushing touchdowns, recording three scores on 14 carries.

 

Spring Forward

 

With spring camp opening in a week, running backs coach Larry Porter takes to the field with a slew of talent, surely the most quality and proven depth the position has seen in recent memory.

 

The return of Scott boosted the Tigers’ running back unit back to the top of the conference. Coming off of a 2008 First-Team All-SEC selection, Scott should push his way to the top of the board in production once more.

 

After starting in all 13 of the Tigers’ games last season, it is of little wonder whether or not Scott will be standing in the backfield during the team’s opening series at Washington next September.

 

The question remains what the role of Williams and Murphy will be, both of whom entered the Tiger program alongside Scott as members of the 2006 recruiting class. Each should get plenty of touches this spring and it would not be surprising at all to see the coaches pull the reigns back some on Scott since they know what he brings.

 

Williams, a victim of minimal touches once more, saw double digit carries just three times in 2008. Yet, the Lafayette-native was impressive in all three of those outings, averaging 4.8 yards a carry against South Carolina, 3.9 against Tulane and 6.8 against Alabama.

 

Murphy, who provides a unique speed and elusive running style that complements both Scott and Williams more powerful style, will look to make a splash after playing third wheel once more in 2008. With Scott and Williams still on board, will the six-foot-one, 196-pound junior continue to get scrap carries, or will the Rayville-standout earn an impact role in offensive coordinator Gary Crowton’s offense at long last?

 

The spring always provides coaches with an opportunity to experiment with players playing other positions and one that could line up multiple places is true freshman Drayton Calhoun, who enrolled at LSU in January.

 

Calhoun is only removed from high school for a little more than three months and with LSU’s deep stable of backs it’s unlikely that he will get much action in the backfield. However, you could see him get some reps as the slot receiver, cornerback, and even in the return game.

 

Holliday hasn’t been much of a factor in the spring due to track and field and the same should be expected this year from the five-time All-American sprinter.

 

There aren’t many questions at tailback but fullback is a different story.


Stevan Ridley

LSU has Stevan Ridley and Tyler Edwards may see some time there this spring. Something else to look for is a possible position move for Kellen Theriot from linebacker to fullback during this experimentation period.

 

Theriot was Scout.com’s No. 1 ranked fullback in the country for the Class of 2008 but spent his first year working at linebacker before injuring his shoulder.

 

One thing is certain, however, in that the running game will be a crutch that the Tigers will look to lean on early and often in 2009. With the search for a consistent arm under center still in the works, Scott and Co. will need to be on point once more if the Tigers hope to make another run to Atlanta … especially if those plans are for the SEC Championship.

 

 

Two Burning Questions Heading into Camp

 

 

1.  Can Scott repeat his 2008 performance and how high will his draft stock soar in the process?

 

With the early departure of Alabama’s Glenn Coffee and Georgia’s Knowshon Moreno for the NFL Draft, Scott returns as the conference’s elite running back.

 

Scott led the conference in touchdowns (18), recording two more than Moreno and eight more than Coffee. His scoring performance tied Connecticut’s Donald Brown for seventh best in the nation. A power at the goal line, the Jonesboro-Hodge standout could easily have added Johnson’s three scores to his plate, all of which came from five yards and in.

 

With a heavy frame and 4.6 speed, Scott has made a living out of breaking away from the first level of contact and turning up the pace with impressive lateral speed. While he served in relief at fullback for Johnson in 2008, look for the senior to stick to his running back spot moving forward.

 

He didn’t skip a beat picking up where Jacob Hester left off, so any worry of the senior losing his stride on the home stretch should be tossed aside. After receiving a third to fourth round grade upon evaluation for the upcoming draft, Scott decided that another year of preparation was needed before the jump was to be made.

 

With smaller runners like Clemson’s C.J Spiller, USC’s Joe McKnight, California’s Jahvid Best, West Virginia’s Noel Devine and Oklahoma’s DeMarco Murray making up the top names for the 2010 draft, Scott should join Oregon’s LeGarrette Blount and Penn State’s Evan Royster as the top power backs in the country.

 

Avoiding some of the bigger names by opting to return for his senior season, Scott’s stock should improve based upon his draft class alone. Still, it would take a repeat performance – and some – to launch the Tiger into the first round.

 

If Scott can secure a second round pick, the wait will be deemed well worth it.

 

2.  With his final year of eligibility approaching, will Keiland Williams come into his own?

 

After Williams’ arrival from Hargrave Military Academy in 2006, where the five-foot-eleven, 229-pound running back earned five-star honors from Scout.com, LSU fans began anticipating the Lafayette-native to become the next Tiger great.


Keiland Williams

As a freshman, Williams carried the ball 76 times for 436 yards and five touchdowns. With that sort of production coming during his opening act, many expected the storyline of Williams’ career to only blossom from there on.

 

Yet, he would go on to put up nearly identical numbers over the next two seasons, earning him the role of Scott’s primary back up.

 

The junior showed promise as both a kick returner and receiver out of the backfield last season, highlighted by a 66-yard catch and run against Georgia. Still, he remains a bit of a mystery carrying the ball out of the backfield, often misreading gaps and not seeing his running lane.

 

While the athletic ability to make an impact is evident, Williams has long had trouble putting all of the pieces together on Saturday. Will his senior season be the tailback’s best with the Bayou Bengals? A strong camp sure would be a nice springboard into the offseason.


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