- David Ching, ESPN Staff Writer
- 0 Shares
Editor's note: Over the next two weeks, we will break down each of LSU's position groups as we prepare for the Tigers to open preseason practice in early August. We move today to the running backs.
BATON ROUGE, La. -- The question concerning LSU's running game isn't whether it will be productive. Even with new blocking backs and unproven depth, it will be. It's not whether Leonard Fournette will be the leading ballcarrier. That's obviously an affirmative, as well.
The main question related to the Tigers' rushing attack is whether it will resemble that of 2013 or that of 2014. The answer seems obvious -- much like when Jeremy Hill handled the bulk of the carries in 2013, Heisman Trophy candidate Fournette seems likely to get a ton of work this fall -- but LSU has not always leaned heavily on one back in Coach Les Miles' tenure.
They've been successful with a backfield by committee, like in the 2011 SEC championship run and last season with seniors Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard and freshmen Fournette and Darrel Williams. And they have had seasons where one star back got substantially more touches than his backfield mates.
Hill's 2013 was one such year, when he was responsible for 42.7 percent of LSU's rushing attempts in the 12 games in which he played. In comparison, Fournette handled just 30 percent of the Tigers' attempts while setting an LSU freshman rushing record last year (1,034 yards), but it would be a stunner if his carry total doesn't jump by at least 10 percent in 2015.
After getting off to a bit of a slow start as a freshman, Fournette soon flashed the dynamic running ability that Tigers fans expected from the nation's No. 1 overall prospect of 2014. By all indications, he's poised for a breakout season that could place him among the top backs in the country.
And he'll have to be a leader within the position group, too. Seniors Magee, Hilliard and Connor Neighbors handled those duties last year, but Fournette and fellow sophomore Darrel Williams are now by far the most experienced players in the backfield.
Williams has shown that he can be a productive rusher (302 rushing yards last season) and receiver (six catches for 63 yards), and his role should expand now that last year's seniors are chasing their NFL goals. Freshmen Derrius Guice, Nick Brossette and David Ducre also should get some carries along the way.
However, it seems likely that those backs will comprise the supporting cast behind Fournette, the likely centerpiece of LSU's 2015 offense. The freshmen will get some valuable experience and Williams will certainly get his touches, but this will be Fournette's show.
Newcomers: RB Derrius Guice (Fr., Baton Rouge, La./Catholic, ESPN four-star prospect, No. 8 RB, No. 96 overall prospect); RB Nick Brossette (Fr., Baton Rouge, La./University Lab, ESPN four-star prospect, No. 12 RB, No. 121 overall prospect); FB David Ducre (Fr., Mandeville, La./Lakeshore, ESPN four-star prospect, No. 35 RB); FB Bry'Kiethon Mouton (Fr., Lafayette, La./Acadiana, ESPN four-star prospect, No. 6 TE-H).
Keep your eye on: The freshmen. By now, we have a good idea what Fournette and Williams can do. Even if Fournette handles the lion's share of the carries, the Tigers need at least one true freshman back -- and probably two or three -- to be ready on Week 1. The good news is that they added two heavily-recruited backs in hometown runners Guice and Brossette. Plus Ducre -- whom many recruiting analysts project as the Tigers' fullback of the future -- enrolled early and was on campus for spring practice.
Confidence meter: High. The offensive line is in excellent shape and the passing game should improve now that the inexperienced throwers and catchers of 2014 have a season under their belts. That could be a key factor, as a competent passing game would give LSU's runners a bit more room to breathe. Depth here is OK, although there isn't a ton of on-field experience. Losing fullbacks Neighbors and Jones meant that John David Moore stepped into the top spot there ahead of Ducre, converted receiver Tony Upchurch and 2015 signee Bry'Kiethon Mouton. However, Miles and running backs coach Frank Wilson lavished praise on Moore after spring practice. The Tigers should be fine there, as well. Overall, the backfield should develop into one of the team's strengths. With Fournette carrying the load, it would be a surprise if the Tigers fail to boast an explosive running game in 2015.
474dSam Khan Jr.