Fall Camp Preview: Running Backs

TigerSportsDigest.com is taking a look at each position as LSU prepares for the start of fall camp and we're going to move on to a running back corps that features one of the top backs in the SEC in Charles Scott.

With LSU breaking in three inexperienced quarterbacks in 2008 and relying on its running game early on it was common to see opponents stack the box with eight and sometimes even nine defenders.

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Still, the Tigers were third in the Southeastern Conference and 28th in the country in rushing after nine games, averaging 187.7 yards a contest.

 

A large chunk of the LSU run game was attributed to Charles Scott, aka Chuck the Truck, who had gone over 100 yards in six of the first nine contests and went into the 10th game averaging 109 yards a game, 6.3 yards a carry, and scored 13 of the team’s 18 touchdowns on the ground. Then it seemed like Scott and the entire offense hit a wall to close out the regular season.    

 

In the last four games of the year, LSU dipped to 119.5 yards a game and the Tigers’ workhorse – Scott – saw his output decline to 193 yards and five scores. But more importantly Scott averaged only 3.2 yards a tote which was only half of what he averaged in his previous nine outings. It wasn’t nearly all Scott’s fault, though, because the passing game was struggling mightily and the offense wasn’t clicking as a whole.

 

The 5-foot-11, 233-pound Scott had the opportunity to turn pro after his junior season where he led the conference with 18 rushing touchdowns and finished third with 1,174 yards on 217 attempts. He was just the 12th 1,000-yard rusher in school history but rather than test the NFL waters the Jonesboro, La. product elected to return, giving LSU one of the deepest and most physically gifted backfields in the league for 2009.

 

Returning from last season along with Scott in LSU’s crowded tailback house is Keiland Williams, Richard Murphy and Trindon Holliday. Anyone who follows recruiting closely knows that those guys were all highly regarded coming out of high school.

 

With only one ball to share there can sometimes be resentment amongst a stable of backs with that pedigree. That, however, is something that LSU running backs coach Larry Porter isn’t concerned with because his guys know how he operates by now.

 

“This is one of my strongest corps since we’ve been here but talent without leadership or without chemistry can ultimately lead to failure,” said Porter. “Those guys have such great chemistry and they care a lot about each other so that’s more important to me than just talent. Sometimes when you have a lot of talent there are some guys who aren’t happy and are disgruntled and it disrupts the chemistry of your group. As a result you’re not as productive as you need to be. We don’t have that problem here.”

 

Over the years each of the veteran backs have complemented one another with their running styles.

 

There’s Scott’s bruising method that wears defenders down over the course of a game then there’s Williams and his breakaway speed and ability to create mismatches in the passing game. Holliday can take it the distance anytime he gets his hands on the ball and Murphy is a slasher that really hasn’t gotten much of a chance to show what he can do because of the depth ahead of him.


Charles Scott looks to pick up where he left off in 2008

The competition at running back has always been heated since Porter arrived at LSU in 2005 when he had Joe Addai, Alley Broussard, Justin Vincent and Shyrone Carey. Just as it’s always been the issue isn’t finding someone he can depend on, but rather figuring out how to distribute the wealth in 2009.

 

“All of our guys bring something to the table so as a coach you want to identify their strengths and put them in a position to utilize those strengths to where the offense can be successful,” Porter said. “The competition is year round and we’re constantly evaluating guys and trying to find ways to get the ball in their hands. Just because you’re a starter doesn’t necessarily mean it’s all yours because all of these guys are talented and we certainly want to play to their talents where they can all help us on offense.”

 

Like every other coach on the staff, Porter had to take a look at what went right and what went wrong last season as the Tigers fell to an 8-5 finish and the rushing production tailed off late in the year.

 

The coaches challenged all of the players – not just the running backs – during the spring and summer to make sure that what happened last season was not a sign of things to come. He says that the offseason has gone well for the Tigers but the true test comes when two-a-days arrive in early August when everyone must prove themselves all over again.

 

“I feel like they’ve responded to the challenge but you never know until you get them into camp,” he said. “One thing that I try to convey on a consistent basis is what have you done for me lately? What you did for me last year will not have mattered a lot to me. With that being said we create competition and you force guys to be at their best on a consistent basis. That’s what we’re striving for is for our guys to come in every day, working hard to get better and to compete and play with that competitive nature. I think it just makes the group better as a whole.

 

“Everybody had been challenged going into the offseason to be at their very best coming back into fall camp. Last year was a year we didn’t enjoy so we’re looking forward to rebounding and having a very successful year.”

 

One person looking to have a breakout year is Williams, who is in his money year. Coming out of Hargrave Military Academy in 2006 – the same year that Scott and Murphy signed with the Tigers – Williams was the higher rated of the trio, checking in as the third rated back in the land according to Scout.com.


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The 5-foot-11, 229-pound Williams, who enters his senior season with 1,331 yards and 13 touchdowns on 229 rushes, has shown flashes of brilliance at times, making highlight reel plays that many players could only dream of making. But there were too many other times where he hit the wrong hole or put the ball on the ground, limiting his time on the field.

 

Will this be Williams’ time to shine and take some of the load off of Scott?

 

Or will Murphy, who had 202 yards on 44 attempts last year, emerge as more of a threat?

 

Will Holliday get more opportunities to tote the rock and improve on the 114 rushing yards on his 21 attempts from last season?

 

With only one ball to go around there’s only so many touches that each can get but Porter expects all four veterans to play a key role for the Tigers in their upcoming season.

 

“Honestly, I’m looking for all of them to have better years than they had before because across the board we need more productivity from our group and more leadership from our group,” he said.

 

Getting more production will not be easy with the loss of senior fullback Quinn Johnson, who was drafted by the Green Bay Packers with the ninth pick of the fifth round – the second fullback selected overall.

 

Sophomore Stevan Ridley had the inside track entering spring practice but a torn ligament in his knee derailed his path. True freshman Dominique Allen, who is reportedly in the 6-foot, 265-pound range, will also have a chance to compete for the job, as will walk-on Richard Dugas.

 

It’s no easy task to replace Johnson but it’s one that needs to be completed before the Tigers hit the meat of the SEC schedule with Georgia, Florida and Auburn in a span of four weeks.

 

“I think over time we will need all of those guys in some capacity but it’s a position we need to develop and to develop in a hurry,” Porter said.

 

Allen is not the only true freshman running back that could see the field in 2009 as five-star prospect Michael Ford has been very impressive with his summer workouts, along with Drayton Calhoun.

 

With the crowded stable of backs that LSU has some may balk at that notion. But one thing Les Miles and Porter have shown over the years is that they have no problem playing a freshman if he’s ready.

 

“We’re not going to sit someone just because they’re a freshman,” said Porter. “We tell them that if they’re good enough to play then they’re going to play. That’s how we’ve always done it and it’s how we’ll do it this year too.”


Tailbacks

32 Charles Scott   5-11, 233, Sr.

5   Keiland Williams   5-11, 229, Sr.

8   Trindon Holliday   5-5, 164, Sr.

26 Richard Murphy   6-1, 196, Jr.

42 Michael Ford   5-10, 200, Fr.

25 Drayton Calhoun   6-0, 175, Fr.

 

Fullbacks

33 Dominique Allen   5-11, 250, Fr.

63 Richard Dugas   6-1, 275, Jr.

34 Stevan Ridley   5-11, 222, So.


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