Spring Football Preview: RB

The losses of Charles Scott, Keiland Williams and Trindon Holliday left a huge void in the running back depth chart. Here is part two in a series on each spring position battle.

Spring Preview: QB (Click Here)

Spring Preview: FB (Click Here)

Spring Preview: WR/TE (Click Here)

Charles Scott’s 2,317 yards and 32 touchdowns for a career are gone. Keiland Williams’ mark of 1,699 yards and 17 touchdowns is also a thing of the past.

Even the man who defined what it meant to be electric with the ball in his hands – the 5-foot-5, 160-pound Trindon Holliday – will never again flash his wheels under the lights of Tiger Stadium.

While Scott and Williams continue to rehab from injuries that sidelined them through the end of the regular season and into their training for the NFL Combine, Holliday continued to remind LSU fans why they hold the lighting bolt that wore No. 8 so close to their hearts. In last Saturday’s Texas vs. The Nation game, Holliday totaled 209 all-purpose yards on the day as the contest’s offensive player of the game. His two touchdowns both came in the third quarter.

With spring practices approaching, LSU head coach Les Miles has his head turned towards rebuilding a backfield that recently went two recruiting seasons without signing a true tailback.

Miles and his staff hauled in three names for 2010: Spencer Ware, Alfred Blue and Jakhari Gore. At 5-foot-11, 215-pounds, Ware – ranked as the No. 10 running back in the nation – appears poised to step on the field immediately – and the word back on our end is that the coaching staff has all the intentions of allowing that to happen. While the 6-foot-2, 205-pound Blue, who was reclassified from the 2011 class into 2010, might need some extra time to prepare; Gore, listed at 5-foot-8, 175-pounds, has shown his versatility by catching balls out of the backfield and lining up in the slot. Without the size to match the rest of the every-down backs the Tiger roster holds, Gore could find his way into the mix as the change-of-pace ball carrier that the offense needs.

Of course, the help from the aforementioned three names does not arrive until the summer. In a few weeks time, Miles will open up camp with Richard Murphy, Stevan Ridley, Michael Ford and Drayton Calhoun.

Here is TigerSportsDigest.com’s look at each player in the race:

Richard Murphy

6’1”, 204, Senior

Rayville, La.

Last Season: 10 yards on two carries.

Outlook: Murphy played the third-man in the rotation behind Scott and Williams for most of his career, but a season-ending knee injury against Vanderbilt in the second game of 2009 allowed the Rayville High standout to rejoin the backfield in 2010 for a final season in purple and gold.

If it can be said for anyone, the time for Murphy is now. After he was forced to redshirt his freshman season after missing all of preseason camp getting through the NCAA Clearinghouse, Murphy combined for just over 400 yards and two touchdowns in two seasons of spot duty. In 2007, Murphy ripped off runs of 53 and 62 yards against Louisiana Tech, both good for the longest runs of his career. Since then his longest carry was for 12 yards. Also a threat to catch the ball out of the backfield, Murphy has logged 19 catches for 170 yards in his three seasons.

Miles said that Murphy appeared on track to be at 100-percent for the spring, and when we ran into Murphy during Orlando’s Capitol One Bowl Week, the message from the man himself was much of the same.

Recently passed down the No. 18 jersey, worn most recently by Jacob Hester and Richard Dickson, Murphy’s performance this spring will be one of the most interesting developments on the offensive side of the ball.

Stevan Ridley

6’0”, 226, Junior

Natchez, Miss.

Last Season: 180 yards and three touchdowns on 45 carries.

Outlook: Headed into last spring, word from the LSU coaching side was that Ridley was poised for his big break. Yes, even with Scott, Williams and Holliday in the arsenal, the staff liked what Ridley had to offer – and the thought of serious minutes in the fall was on many minds.

A fullback prospect when he joined LSU's team, can Ridley become LSU's go-to runner?

Unfortunately, an ACL injury just days into practice sidelined him through the spring and summer workouts. Behind the eight ball, it appeared Ridley was headed for the role of the fourth man in line for carries. When Murphy (knee), Scott (clavicle) and Williams (ankle) were all lost for the year to injury, Ridley was pushed back to the top of the depth chart.

He started at running back for the first time in his career against Arkansas in the regular-season finale, where he responded with 48 yards on 14 carries. After Scott went down in the Alabama contest, Ridley stepped ahead of Williams and carried the ball on an 8-yard touchdown run with 3:19 left in the third quarter to put the Tigers up 15-10. His best career game statistically was this past season against Tulane, where he recorded 73 yards and a touchdown in the 42-0 win.

When given his chances to carry the ball, Ridley has certainly shown promise. All the while, on a wet field against Penn State in which the Tigers figured to rely heavily on the sophomore’s abilities, Ridley ran for only 13 yards on 12 attempts. While he scored one of the two touchdowns, his fumble inside LSU’s 20-yard line also led to points for the Nittany Lions.

With most of the competition out of the way, could another year of training with new running backs coach Frank Wilson have Ridley ready to carry the starting load by himself?

Words from Miles: On where Ridley and Murphy stand headed into spring competition…

“You have seen those guys [Murphy and Ridley] chip in and contribute,” he said. “Whether they are going to be able to carry the ball the length and breadth of the season, I’m not certain. I think they’ve got talent enough. There is ability. I look forward to those two guys coming back ready and healthy to compete … and with a desire to be great backs.

“Does that mean there will be some young guys coming in this class or young guys in the future that might not step in there and compete? Absolutely. But I like those two backs.”

Words from Miles: On Ridley’s 2009 year…

“It’s been a shame what has happened to his development this last year,” he said. “While he was in position, he was getting mostly special teams reps while his leg was getting healthy. As we lost tailbacks he became the guy that had to get the reps. Think about it. That was a guy who showed up in camp just off a knee injury.”

Michael Ford

5’10”, 207, Redshirt Freshman

Leesville, La.

Last Season: Freshman.

Outlook: Ford surged out of high school and onto the collegiate scene as one of the most decorated names in Louisiana history.

Ford has four more seasons in a Tiger uniform. Will 2010 be the year to make his first mark on the program?

Lining up in the same backfield as Cecil Collins once did for the Wampus Cats, Ford exploded onto the prep scene with 1,339 yards and 18 touchdowns during his sophomore season. When he broke his collarbone on the second series in the third game of his junior season, Ford would have to wait another year to prove his worth. Nonetheless, he finished the game – broken collarbone and all – by eclipsing the century mark before head coach Terrance Williams recognized the injury and sidelined Ford. By the end of his senior campaign, Ford had rushed for just short of 3,000 yards and 29 touchdowns.

For his efforts, Ford was named a Parade All-American and tabbed as the No. 3 ranked running back by Scout.com.

Last summer and fall, mixed results came back from Ford’s workouts with the Tigers. While his work in the weight room is second to none, some veteran defenders tabbed Ford as running timid. Like most freshman, we expect that the 5-foot-10, 207-pound back was just getting used to the rigors of college football.

A year later, Ford should be back to his A-game for the spring. The question Tiger fans are left wondering is whether or not Miles will see something in Ford that warrants his movement up the depth chart and onto the playing field before the thick of SEC play rolls around.

When asked if Ford had the ability to step alongside Ridley and Murphy and take carries by next fall, Miles responded, “We’re going to test that.”

Drayton Calhoun

6’0”, 170, Redshirt Freshman

Clarkston, Ga.

Last Season: Freshman.

Outlook: Without getting to see Calhoun in any live action, and without much to draw upon from coach’s reviews, the future of Calhoun is a bit of a mystery.

Calhoun tried out CB before moving to RB last spring.

Coming out of high school, Calhoun played both running back and defensive back. He rushed for 1,211 yards and 12 touchdowns during his senior season to help lead Tucker High to the class 4A state championship. By season’s end, Calhoun was a 4A first-team all-state selection.

When he arrived on campus a semester early, Miles put the newcomer onto the defensive side of the ball. His time at cornerback was short lived, and Miles noted that it was highly doubtful that Calhoun would ever return to that side of the football.

Set to be a running back over his next four years with the Tigers, Calhoun offers a speed that no other member of the backfield – at least this spring – can touch.

Prior to his senior season, Calhoun dazzled Tiger fans with the word back from a preseason test. Timed in the 40-yard dash three times, the results were 4.25 (area scout), 4.27 (Tucker coaches) and 4.31 (Trainer). The first two were hand-timed, while the 4.31 was laser timed. Fast, in these terms, is spelled C-A-L-H-O-U-N. With Russell Shepard, Ware and possibly Gore looking for touches outside of the big three names, the spring will be the perfect time for Miles to evaluate where the speedster fits into the LSU offense.

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