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Friday, January 18, 2013
Mailbag: Chances for Nkemdiche?

By Gary Laney

BATON ROUGE, La. -- GTN writer Gary Laney takes your questions on LSU football and recruiting:

From Scott: It's common knowledge that LSU uses the RB by committee approach, and it has worked well. But what I've noticed is it becomes somewhat of a flavor of the month. In late 2010 and 2011 (Spencer) Ware and (Michael) Ford were the tandem; then in 2011 Kenny Hilliard emerged and fell back in line; this year it was Alfred Blue until he got injured, and Jeremy Hill emerged and took the spotlight. All those guys have unique qualities, but it seems they burn bright and then fade into the depth chart. Ware wasn't the same after his suspension, but how would you explain Ford and Hilliard's lack of use at times? Could the same happen to Hill with the new recruits coming in?

Robert Nkemdiche
LSU is still in the mix for Robert Nkemdiche.
Gary Laney: That's an interesting way to look at it and one that suggests to me that LSU doesn't really want a four- or five-back committee, but would rather feature one or two guys while also cutting back on the wear and tear.

Remember, LSU coaches sell players on being NFL draft ready when they are done. What they don't want is to have a guy carry 1,000 times over three years then enter the NFL with a long list of ailments. If you recall, when Ware was "the man" for the first half of the 2011 season, every time LSU played a weaker opponent his carries would plummet. He had 26 carries against Oregon, then six against Northwestern State, then 45 combined against Mississippi State and West Virginia, but just four against Kentucky.

So the desire to save legs is there, which means more guys will get opportunities to show what they can do. That wouldn't happen as much at a program that's going to "ride its horse," so to speak. What happens is, guys show what they can do, so when one of main backs gets banged up, it's easier for the coaches to decide that, for example, a healthy and proven Hilliard is a better option than a banged-up Ware. So you end up with this committee approach.

If you go back to Stevan Ridley's 1,147-yard year in 2010, he stayed relatively healthy and wound up with the bulk of the carries. So I don't think Les Miles is attached to the hip of the idea of having to use a boat load of backs. In 2011, if Ware had stayed healthy and out of trouble he probably would have had a season similar to Ridley's 2010 season. Same with Blue in 2012. If he stayed healthy, we likely would not have seen the rise of Hill as quickly.

As for Ford, I always noticed that he seemed to stay in the same role, the No. 2 back who was the speed guy. That role led to more carries in 2011 because he was considerably faster than both Ware or Hilliard, the other primary backs. In 2012, he was behind Blue and Hill, guys who I thought were a bit more explosive than Ware and Hilliard. So Ford's change of pace wasn't needed as frequently.

What's interesting to me is LSU will lose Blue after this year and enter 2014, potentially Leonard Fournette's freshman season, with the herd thinned considerably. Unless Jeryl Brazil ends up at running back -- and I've heard rumblings it is being considered -- LSU has no new running backs coming this season.

From Hunter (@HStcyr): What are the realistic chances of landing (Robert) Nkemdiche? Is he the next (Jadaveon) Clowney?

GL: I'd say far less than 50-50 for LSU, but LSU is still enough in the picture to keep Tiger fans interested. If Nkemdiche visits Baton Rouge Feb. 1 -- meaning Ole Miss doesn't get him to shut down the process by then -- all bets are off.

As for the comparison to Clowney, I'm going to give the edge to Clowney because one thing that stands out is the way he gets off the ball so well. Some of that has to do with his tremendous quickness and burst. But it also has to do with his uncanny knack for feeling the snap count and being in motion as fast as the football gets snapped. That, to me, is like an intangible.

Nkemdiche is a more powerful and naturally bulky player -- and that's saying something -- but he doesn't seem to have quite the same explosive first step, perhaps because he's bigger. If you are a 3-4 team, you might prefer to have Nkemdiche taking on a tackle head-up, while a 4-3 team might prefer Clowney using his burst to beat the tackle off the edge. I'd rather have the more explosive player, regardless of scheme.

Now, don't get me wrong. They are both great talents and Nkemdiche would dominate in a 4-3 too. We are comparing New York strip to filet mignon here.