LSU Tigers: Spencer Ware

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Through three quarters Saturday night, Kenny Hilliard and LSU’s offensive line had done nothing to give their coaches confidence that they’d dominate the fourth quarter against a stiff Wisconsin defense.

LSU’s running game had accounted for next to nothing, and it didn’t appear that anyone was going to break through since the Tigers were in desperation mode and the Badgers carried a double-digit lead into the final period.

[+] EnlargeKenny Hillard
Bob Levey/Getty ImagesKenny Hilliard served as LSU's closer against Wisconsin, rushing for 102 of his 110 yards in the fourth quarter.
“[The offensive linemen] were pretty upset because we had 16 yards in the first half,” Hilliard said. “They knew we were better than that.”

It took some time for them to prove it, but they were right. The Tigers wore down Wisconsin’s defensive front -- and it certainly helped that two of the Badgers’ starting linemen left the game with injuries -- and took over in the fourth quarter. While Hilliard, Leonard Fournette and Terrence Magee had found little or no running room earlier in the game, Hilliard was able to blow through big holes inthe fourth quarter -- and the Tigers kept feeding him.

He entered the fourth quarter with seven carries for eight yards -- while Fournette had seven carries for 21 yards through three quarters and Magee had five attempts for six yards -- but Hilliard essentially was LSU’s offense toward the end of the game. The senior carried 11 times for 102 yards in the fourth quarter alone, finishing with 18 totes for 110 yards and the go-ahead 28-yard touchdown.

Four of Hilliard’s 11 fourth-quarter carries achieved first downs. A fifth was the touchdown that gave LSU its first lead of the night with 9:41 to play.

“At the end of the day, they ran the ball well and they made a gigantic play,” Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen said. “The last touchdown they got broke the game open.”

Before LSU kneeled to run out the clock on its final two snaps, Hilliard ran the ball on 10 of the Tigers’ previous 12 plays. He got the ball all three times before the kneeldowns, forcing the Badgers to use their three timeouts and achieving the crucial first down that secured the win with a 4-yard gain on his final run of the night. On the Tigers’ go-ahead touchdown drive, Hilliard got the ball on all three plays, running for gains of 17 and eight before his 28-yard scoring run.

It was as dramatic a turnaround as even the most loyal LSU supporter could have imagined.

“That’s something with our offense,” Hilliard said. “Whomever can get in there and get the hot hand and first downs will basically stay in the game.”

But what does Hilliard’s Saturday success mean moving forward? He has played the role of fourth-quarter punisher in LSU’s offense before, but opportunities to become the Tigers’ featured back have been rare.

Fournette didn’t make the immediate splash many media members had predicted, but he and Magee will still get their share of the workload. As Hilliard said, this was a time where the Tigers found a late spark on a night that had been full of frustration and stuck with what had started working.

“I felt like Kenny Hilliard played hard,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “I like Leonard Fournette’s contribution, did just what we asked him to do, ran hard, returned a couple of kicks. We’re a blue-collar team that will fight like hell and get in competitive games and scrap you. This was one of those times.”

Even after his strong first outing, Hilliard’s vision of his backfield role didn’t seem to change.

He has been one cog in a multifaceted LSU running game throughout his career, and Hilliard doesn’t expect the Tigers to alter that philosophy. He and Magee still expect to help Fournette and fellow freshman Darrel Williams develop bigger roles as the season progresses.

“That’s how it was for us when me and Terrence came in,” Hilliard said. “Guys like Alfred Blue, Spencer Ware, Michael Ford, they were able to take us underneath their wings and show us the way. That’s what we’re here for. We have to help lift each other and stay positive.”
BATON ROUGE, La. -- Frank Wilson's job could have been awfully difficult this season if the wrong personalities existed within his running backs room at LSU.

Wilson -- the Tigers' recruiting coordinator and running backs coach -- just bolstered his depth chart by adding the nation's top overall prospect, Leonard Fournette, plus Darrel Williams, who rushed for 2,200 yards as a high school senior. If the other scholarship tailbacks on the roster, seniors Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard, were jealous types, the dynamic in Wilson's meeting room could easily have turned poisonous.

Instead, it seems to be the exact opposite.

"They're so humble," Wilson said of Magee and Hilliard. "They've been so patient in their careers and they understand what it is to be a young pro and put themselves in position to embark on this senior year and have great success. So to have both of those guys here who are unselfish and lead our group is certainly positive for us."

[+] EnlargeLSU's Terrence Magee and Leonard Fournette
AP Photo/Gerald HerbertTerrence Magee is wearing the No. 18 jersey this season -- given to LSU's top leaders each fall -- in part because of his mentorship of young running backs like Leonard Fournette (7).
Even during spring practice, a few months before Fournette and Williams arrived on campus, Magee and Hilliard answered frequent questions about the new signees without balking. Despite the possibility that the Tigers' top back might become a freshman, the veterans immediately embraced the newcomers in an effort to get them ready for the Aug. 30 opener against Wisconsin.

"I've been happy with that," Fournette said. "They're still teaching us, all the young running backs. Without them, we'd kind of be lost. Every day they teach us and we get better."

And they're happy to teach, Hilliard said, just as Spencer Ware, Michael Ford, Alfred Blue, James Stampley and J.C. Copeland did for him as a freshman in 2011.

"They were all brothers to us," Hilliard said. "They all took us underneath their wing and carried us."

The freshmen seem to be taking the right approach, as well.

"One thing I love about Darrel -- just like I love about Leonard -- I love his attitude," Magee said. "He might call me 20 times a day to ask me, ‘What do I do on this?' or 'What do I do on that?' He was blowing me up [the night before preseason camp opened]. But you like guys like that because they want to learn. For me, I want to teach him because I want to look back and say I was able to help that guy get to where he is today."

That's exactly the kind of selflessness those at LSU expected from Magee. The coaches handed him the No. 18 jersey for the season -- an honor that goes to one of the Tigers' top leaders each fall. And leadership is what he has shown toward Fournette, who might be the most heavily-hyped recruit in LSU history.

"You know when you meet someone and you know you're kind of alike? That's how it is with me and Terrence," Fournette said. "I enjoy being around him. He's another jokester. He likes to have fun and I think the brotherhood that we're creating, it's fun.

Fournette continued, "Without him I'd be lost. Every day he's taking his time after practice, he's coming by my house teaching me and telling me this is what this call means, this is what that call means. So that means a lot. I'm catching on faster outside of football practice with him helping me."

Magee and Hilliard aren't naïve about what the 2014 season holds. They know that despite rushing for a combined 936 yards and 15 touchdowns last season as Jeremy Hill's backups, they will probably touch the ball fewer times as the freshmen adapt to SEC football.

All of them envision some sort of backfield timeshare, as that has become a common feature of LSU's running game in recent seasons.

"I think all of us are going to get a lot of carries, a lot of play and contribute to the team," Williams predicted.

And that's just fine with Magee and Hilliard.

Some players view their senior seasons as a final chance to shine -- and show NFL scouts that they're worthy of becoming draft picks. LSU's senior backs certainly hold that mindset, but realize they can think that way without being selfish toward their young teammates.

"When things get hard and people question our team, when it's tough out there when we're practicing, [his predecessors wearing No. 18 were] the first guys to step up and just lead this team, show everybody how it's done. ‘Follow me. Watch me,' " Magee said. "I really admire that about those guys. Sometimes you have young guys and they're looking around and looking for somebody to follow. Each guy that I've seen wear that since I've been here, they got it."

He and Hilliard seem to have willing followers in the two freshman backs.

"I really don't think about [starting] because we're still learning and the veterans are teaching us," Fournette said. "I don't expect to come in and right away in the game and start. So I'm just following Kenny and Terrence."

Fortunately for LSU, and for the future of its running game, Magee and Hilliard seem to be two good players for a freshman to follow.
BATON ROUGE, La. -- By now it's no secret that LSU's offense will be loaded with freshmen and inexperienced underclassmen. Perhaps that's why offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has emphasized since spring practice that his veterans have to do more than lead by example.

"There's no room for quiet leaders anymore. It's time for people to step up and start talking," said running back Terrence Magee, an understated senior who admitted that vocal leadership does not come naturally. "And if that's what I've got to do, then I'm willing to do it."

That's a theme that has resonated throughout the offensive roster. A crew of future stars like Leonard Fournette, Malachi Dupre and Brandon Harris joined the team this year, and the older players understand that the rookies need to see -- and hear -- things being done the right way.

Many older players already wanted to mentor the youngsters through their actions, but the verbal portion of leadership is new to some. Magee and senior left tackle La'el Collins both identified right tackle Jerald Hawkins as a naturally quiet starter who has become more verbal since Cameron sent that message in the spring. Collins added running back Kenny Hilliard and quarterbacks Harris and Anthony Jennings to the list of burgeoning vocal leaders.

"It's definitely more natural to me because that's just the way it was when I got here," Collins said. "That's something that I picked up on and it kind of died down a little bit, but it's just something that Coach Cam is kind of reinstating."

If Cameron's efforts are successful, they can have an impact far beyond the 2014 season as the young players continue to mature, Collins said.

"Guys around here and our younger guys especially, they need to see that. They need to see that is what sets the trend," Collins said. "That's what gets the young guys on one accord with us, makes sure we're moving in the same direction and when they become veterans, they'll be able to pass that along."

Moving around: As Coach Les Miles indicated before camp, quarterbacks Harris and Jennings switched practice groups in Monday and Tuesday's split-squad workouts. And they weren't alone.

Jennings practiced with the varsity on Monday -- a group largely composed of starters with a handful of freshmen mixed in -- and shifted to the reserves/freshmen group on Tuesday afternoon, and vice versa for Harris. That gives both players a chance to work with a full range of personnel.

"This is designed so that everybody's getting maximum reps, and it may be as deceptive as we want this linebacker to be with that linebacker so he can see it being done extremely well," Miles said. "So don't spend a lot of time saying, ‘Why's he here, why's he there?' It is fully for a teaching purpose and for everybody to get really great reps."

In addition to the quarterbacks, several other players switched from the afternoon to the morning group on Tuesday. Among Tuesday's morning newcomers were tight ends DeSean Smith and Logan Stokes, after Dillon Gordon and Travis Dickson worked with the first-teamers on Monday, and safety Jalen Mills. Backup quarterback Jared Foster also practiced with the morning group after working in the afternoon Monday.

Right guard competition: LSU has four starters back along the offensive line, but the competition for the vacant starting position could last well into the season.

Hoko Fanaika was the first to line up at right guard with the starting offensive line Tuesday, but he and fellow senior Evan Washington know their battle will truly renew once the team begins practicing in pads on Friday.

"We've been getting pretty much equal reps," Fanaika said after Tuesday morning's practice.

Miles and offensive line coach Jeff Grimes -- both former right guards in college -- have individually worked with the guards in practice this week, and Fanaika said their instruction has been helpful.

"[Miles] just pretty much sharpens up my technique," Fanaika said. "Whatever Grimes teaches me, he just adds on, so he's just helping me better my craft."

Plenty of reps for RBs: LSU has only four scholarship tailbacks on the roster -- Magee and fellow senior Hilliard, plus Fournette and fellow freshman Darrel Williams -- so there have been plenty of carries to go around for the backs in the split-squad workouts.

That's a major change for the veterans, who encountered a significantly different depth-chart situation when they first became Tigers. Hilliard was a reserve who rushed for 336 yards and eight touchdowns for the 2011 SEC championship club, while Magee played much less, totaling 27 carries for 133 yards that season as Spencer Ware, Michael Ford, Alfred Blue and Hilliard played bigger roles.

"When I got here, it was about six or eight of us and we were fighting for reps. You might get one or two a day," Magee chuckled on Monday. "But me and Kenny, we're getting our share of them right now, and Darrel and Leonard, they're going to get their share of them this afternoon. We'll be glad when we all come together and it's all four of us so we don't have to take the whole load."

Quote of the day: Miles on watching freshman tailback Fournette practicing Monday for the first time at LSU in helmet and shorts, since the team doesn't practice in full pads until Friday: "That's kind of like having Tiger Woods on a golf course with a putter. You just want to see him tee off, don't you? Well, we have to put pads on before we can see him tee off."
BATON ROUGE, La. -- In April, we broke down how LSU's offense led the nation in third-down efficiency last season by converting for a first down or touchdown 57.1 percent of the time.

The three key names in that endeavor were quarterback Zach Mettenberger, receiver Jarvis Landry and tailback Jeremy Hill -- all of whom ranked among the nation's most clutch third-down performers. All three are in the NFL now, however, so it will be important for LSU to identify new players capable of keeping drives alive on those all-important downs.

Let's take a look at what could become the key factors in LSU's attempt to remain successful on third down.

Quarterback efficiency, running ability

[+] EnlargeZach Mettenberger
AP Photo, Cal Sport MediaLSU will have a hard time matching the success on third down of departed quarterback Zach Mettenberger.
One of the two April posts focused on the need for the Tigers' quarterbacks to play efficiently. Let's face it, whoever wins the starting job -- whether it's freshman Brandon Harris or sophomore Anthony Jennings -- he's not going to zing third-down completions like Mettenberger did last year.

The fifth-year senior's 96.7 Total Quarterback Rating on third down trailed only that of Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston (96.9) among FBS quarterbacks. Mettenberger was 58-for-89 for 974 yards, nine touchdowns and one interception on third down according to ESPN Stats & Information. Of those 58 completions, 21 went for 20 yards or more -- a total that was second only to Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater (22).

Talented though they may be, a green freshman and a sophomore with one shaky start under his belt are not going to match that kind of passing production. As LSU offensive coordinator Cam Cameron indicated after the Tigers' spring game, they'll have to play it smart early in possessions in order to keep the offense in manageable down-and-distance situations.

Give the young quarterbacks this, though: both of them have an ability that Mettenberger simply does not possess, and it will almost certainly come in handy this fall. Both are good runners, so don't be surprised to see designed runs -- and scrambles after plays break down -- that result in first downs.

Jennings was credited with six rushing attempts on third downs last season, with two of them achieving first downs and another achieving a touchdown. Harris showed off some impressive wheels in LSU's spring game, rushing three times on third down for 45 yards and a touchdown. We'll certainly see more of that in 2014 than when the slow-footed Mettenberger was under center.

Filling Landry's shoes

The question isn't which LSU player replaces Landry's absurd production on third down. It's highly unlikely that one player will do that -- not this fall anyhow -- seeing as how Landry ranked third in the FBS in third-down receptions (28), second in receiving yards (474) and tied for first with six touchdown catches according to ESPN Stats & Information.

2013 FBS Leaders
Third-down receptions
35 -- Jace Amaro, Texas Tech
30 -- Justin Hardy, East Carolina
28 -- Jarvis Landry, LSU
27 -- Allen Robinson, Penn State
26 -- Willie Snead, Ball State

Third-down receiving yards
478 -- Jace Amaro, Texas Tech
474 -- Jarvis Landry, LSU
432 -- Shaun Joplin, Bowling Green
407 -- Ty Montgomery, Stanford
402 -- Antwan Goodley, Baylor

[+] EnlargeTravin Dural
AP Photo/Bill HaberTravin Dural caught the game-winning touchdown against Arkansas on third down.
LSU has only one returning wide receiver who was even targeted with a third-down pass last season -- Travin Dural caught 5 of 11 third-down passes where he was the intended target and scored two touchdowns, including the game winner against Arkansas -- so it would make sense for the Tigers to spread around the opportunities more evenly this fall.

But who will get those chances?

Dural is a given, followed by lots of uncertainty. Freshmen like John Diarse, Malachi Dupre, Trey Quinn, D.J. Chark and Tony Upchurch will be in the mix, but it's possible that the quarterbacks will look more often to players at other positions.

Using veterans at TE, RB in passing game

Since the receiving corps is loaded with inexperience, a good alternative might be the positions where the Tigers return some experience.

They're extremely deep at tight end, and one of the talking points of LSU's spring practice was about how the position should be more active this season.

Last season, the Tigers targeted the tight end 10 times on third down, but came away with only three completions for 35 yards and one first down. In other words, this will be a two-way street. The tight ends must hold onto the ball consistently if the quarterbacks are to look their way more often.

If LSU's spring game was any indication, the chances will be there. Jennings and Harris targeted tight ends on four of their 12 third-down passes, with DeSean Smith catching two of them for 36 yards and a touchdown.

Likewise, tailback Terrence Magee made it a point this spring that he'd like to catch more balls out of the backfield this fall. The former receiver could be dangerous as a third-down target judging by his three receptions for 46 yards in that role last season.

Fullback Connor Neighbors (one catch on two targets for 4 yards and a first down in 2013) could also become more of a factor in the passing games now that he's taking over for J.C. Copeland in the backfield.

Who handles the backfield workload?

Hill was arguably the nation's most explosive third-down back in 2013, leading the FBS with an average of 13.28 yards per carry on third down according to ESPN Stats & Information. Although dozens of players carried the ball more times on third down than Hill's 18 attempts, he ranked 10th nationally with 239 yards thanks in large part to his touchdown runs of 37, 49 and 69 yards.

2013 FBS Leaders
Third-down yards per carry
13.28 -- Jeremy Hill, LSU (18-239)
11.92 -- Kenneth Dixon, Louisiana Tech (13-155)
10.76 -- Duke Johnson, Miami (17-183)
10.50 -- Larry Dixon, Army (12-126)
10.20 -- Tevin Coleman, Indiana (10-102)

Seniors Magee (eight carries, 44 yards, three first downs, one touchdown in 2013) and Kenny Hilliard (eight carries, 36 yards, two first downs, two touchdowns) have handled short-yardage duty well in limited work, but the X-factors might be freshmen Leonard Fournette and Darrel Williams.

ESPN's No. 1 overall prospect for 2014, Fournette has LSU fans drooling over his combination of size, power and breakaway speed. He'll almost certainly play a leading role on third down -- and in every other type of running situation -- early in his college career. And Williams was no slouch himself as a prep star, rushing for 2,201 yards and 32 touchdowns as a senior at John Ehret High School in Marrero, Louisiana.

It's possible that LSU could use all four tailbacks in some capacity, similar to a 2011 backfield that utilized Hilliard, Spencer Ware, Michael Ford and Alfred Blue. Ware led the Tigers with 92 yards on 25 third-down rushing attempts that year, while Blue (16 carries for 85 yards) and Ford (13 carries for 77 yards) led the way with two touchdown runs apiece.

With inexperience at quarterback and receiver and a next-level talent like Fournette joining the backfield, conventional wisdom indicates that LSU will lean heavily on its veteran offensive line and the ground game, especially on third downs. The previously mentioned factors will certainly play an enormous role in LSU's attempt to remain effective on third down, but this might be a season where the rushing attack is the most important element in keeping the chains moving.

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Frank Wilson hasn’t been taking it easy on his players lately.

LSU’s running backs coach has been giving Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard a heavy workload in spring practice, which was partially out of necessity since the two seniors are the only scholarship tailbacks on the Tigers’ spring roster.

“It's getting pretty rough out there,” Magee said with a smile. “We're taking a lot of reps. We were rotating every play, but this week Coach Frank wants us to go a little bit longer so we've been going about every three now. So it's getting pretty taxing, but it's going to pay off in the long run.”

[+] EnlargeKenny Hilliard
Spruce Derden/USA TODAY SportsSenior Kenny Hilliard is one of two tailbacks that LSU returns from last season, joining Terrence Magee.
This is an unusual time for LSU’s tailbacks -- a position group known in the recent past for its impressive depth. In 2011, LSU had four players (Michael Ford, Spencer Ware, Alfred Blue and Hilliard) rush for 300 or more yards and score at least seven touchdowns. It was more of the same last season, with Jeremy Hill (1,401 yards, 16 TDs), Magee (626-8), Blue (343-1) and Hilliard (310-7) all going for 300-plus and Hill, Magee and Hilliard all scoring at least seven times.

But with Hill and Blue both entering the NFL draft, the Tigers are now forced to work converted linebacker (now fullback) Melvin Jones at tailback a bit just to break up the practice reps.

“This is his first time carrying the ball, but he's getting better,” Hilliard said of Jones. “His pad level is a little high, but that's part of it. He's never really carried the ball before, so it's just a lot of teaching that he's got to learn, watch film and make sure that he stays in the film room and just look at us and let us lead by example. He can just pay attention to us and he'll be all right.”

Any LSU fan who hasn’t been living under a rock knows that this situation is only temporary. Leonard Fournette -- one of the most heavily hyped prospects ever to emerge from Louisiana, whom two recruiting services, including ESPN, picked as the nation’s No. 1 overall recruit -- isn’t on campus yet. Neither is Darrel Williams, who rushed for 2,201 yards and 32 touchdowns as a senior at Marrero (La.) John Ehret.

Both players seem likely to contribute as true freshmen. And in Fournette’s case, anything short of stardom would probably disappoint most Tigers fans -- a reality that is not lost on LSU’s returning tailbacks.

“I don't feel like we get overlooked and it doesn't bother us,” Magee said of the buzz surrounding Fournette. “All the credit that he gets, he fully deserves. He was the No. 1 player in the country and he's a great running back. I've watched film of him. So everything that he's getting, I feel that he's well deserving of it.”

Fournette will still need help adjusting to life on a college campus and within a big-time SEC program, which is where the two seniors can help.

“Those guys have just got to be mentally prepared when they come in, because the transition from high school to college, it's tough,” Hilliard said. “As they get here, I'm going to mentor them -- me and Terrence -- like Spencer Ware and Alfred Blue and those guys mentored us.”

Even if Fournette immediately emerges as LSU’s next superstar back, the Tigers have traditionally spread around the carries under Les Miles. Magee, who averaged 7.3 yards per carry last season, and Hilliard, who has a touchdown for every 10 touches in his career, will almost certainly play key roles in the offense.

“One thing about [offensive coordinator Cam Cameron’s] offense: the best player's going to play and the hardest worker's going to play,” offensive lineman Vadal Alexander said. “I'll tell you one thing, Kenny Hilliard and Terrence Magee are two of the hardest-working players on our team. So they are going to get their carries. You can see that they're talented guys. Terrence has one of the best agility moves, side-to-side quickness, all that. Kenny is one of the most powerful backs in the nation in my opinion.”

Once Hill returned from an early suspension last season, Magee found a niche as a third-down back. The former receiver would like to expand upon that role by adding some pass-catching responsibilities out of the backfield -- plus Miles said last week that Magee will rank among the Tigers’ top candidates as a kick return man.

He has never carried the ball more than 82 times in a season, but Hilliard has proven to be an especially effective goal-line runner, and that role seems likely to remain in place in the fall.

Obviously no roles for 2014 are established yet, and they won’t be until the freshmen arrive and responsibilities begin falling into place during August practices. The only duties Magee and Hilliard are certain to claim are those of mentors -- and they seem happy to help Fournette and Williams, just as their predecessors did when they were underclassmen.

“We've just got to keep the standards and just be able to come out and execute and play hard,” Hilliard said. “That's our motto: just come out and play hard and take care of the ball and everything will be all right. We know we have two young guys coming in and we're going to mentor them and make sure they get right and keep the legacy in the room.”
BATON ROUGE, La. – An unusual set of circumstances must exist when one of the most productive running backs in school history leaves early for the NFL draft and nobody seems too concerned.

Jeremy Hill rushed for 216 yards in LSU's season-ending victory over Iowa in the Outback Bowl -- a performance that, even before he made it official, seemed as if it would be the sophomore's final college game. Then the nation's No. 1 prospect, New Orleans running back Leonard Fournette, committed to LSU the very next day.

Les Miles' staff had put all of its eggs in the Fournette basket, opting not to sign a single running back in 2013 in an effort to land the biggest recruit available in 2014. And Fournette is certainly that, earning the highest prospect rating of any running back since ESPN began grading recruits in 2006. LSU's efforts paid off when he verbally committed to the Tigers during the Jan. 2 Under Armour All-America Game, creating a sigh of relief throughout an LSU fan base that desperately wanted to see Fournette play next season in purple and gold.

[+] EnlargeLeonard Fournette
Miller Safrit/ESPNLSU fans celebrated -- and were surely relieved -- when No. 1 running back Leonard Fournette donned an LSU hat at the Under Armour All-America Game.
How could they not? Recruiting analysts have been comparing Fournette to Minnesota Vikings All-Pro Adrian Peterson for years. ESPN national recruiting director Tom Luginbill likened him to Georgia superstar Todd Gurley, only with better speed. And ESPN recruiting coordinator Craig Haubert weighed in on how LSU's offensive scheme was the ideal fit for a player with Fournette's well-rounded set of skills.

“They have a player who is meeting needs if you think about Jeremy Hill declaring for the NFL draft and Alfred Blue being a senior,” Haubert said in an ESPN Recruiting Nation video discussing Fournette's commitment. “That leaves only two running backs [rising seniors Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard] on the roster, so obviously Leonard Fournette fills a big need and he's also a great fit if you think about LSU's power running game -- that two-back, downhill scheme. That is ideally the best fit for Leonard Fournette.”

LSU's sports information department might have built a Heisman Trophy campaign around Hill had he returned for his junior season. After his 1,401-yard, 16-touchdown campaign in 2013, Hill might have ranked among the nation's most dominant college backs in 2014. His final college season certainly was one of the best in school history, with the yardage total ranking second all-time at LSU and the touchdown total ranking fourth.

But with Fournette coming aboard after rushing for 1,802 yards and 17 touchdowns and totaling 745 receiving yards and six more scores as a senior at St. Augustine High School, and Magee (86 carries for 626 yards and 8 TDs in 2013) and Hilliard (68-310, 7 TDs) returning, the Tigers should be able to absorb Hill's departure without much difficulty.

Fournette and fellow running back commit Darrel Williams (Marrero, La./John Ehret) won't arrive at LSU until summer, but they seem like good fits for what LSU wants to do in the running game, frequently with young players in its backfield.

“We don't look at them as young kids -- like my freshman year, when I was able to play my freshman year, a couple of guys went down and that's what led me to play,” said Hilliard, who rushed for 336 yards and eight touchdowns as a freshman while splitting time with Blue, Michael Ford and Spencer Ware. “So everybody's just got to be ready to play when their number's called.”

Magee became a productive counterpuncher behind Hill in 2013, and he will most likely continue to play a big role in LSU's backfield as a senior. And while Hilliard has never been the lead back, he has three 100-yard games on his résumé and has rushed for 21 touchdowns in just 212 career carries.

“At any point in time you can turn to a guy that's as veteran as Kenny Hilliard and know you're going to get quality play,” Miles said last week.

They're all capable of providing quality play, but everyone expects Fournette to claim the lead role at some point. He's just that good -- and he'll have to live up to those astronomical expectations if he is to make Tigers fans forget about what Hill could have brought to the offense in 2014.
BATON ROUGE, La. -- Kenny Hilliard walked into the first player interview session of LSU's August camp Monday looking rather svelte.

"I'm 230 pounds," he said with pride, while explaining how he lost about 10 pounds since the 2012 season by consulting with a dietician and cutting out the fast food and soul food he loves.

A short while later, Alfred Blue came out, looking confident and healthy, far from a guy who was lost for the season to a knee injury last year in Week 3.

[+] EnlargeJeremy Hill
AP Photo/Gerald HerbertJeremy Hill led LSU in rushing with 755 yards in 2012.
"There's no fear," Blue proclaimed. "I just go out there and what happens, happens. Physically, I'm there. I'm 100 percent."

The "other" two backs in LSU's now deeper stable are the reasons why Jeremy Hill’s return to the lead role might not transpire. Hill, who had a judge extend his probation for carnal knowledge of a juvenile instead of sending him to jail, rejoined the Tigers Monday. He led the team with 755 yards and 12 touchdowns as a freshman last year, but that production can’t be assumed.

To see why look at where Blue and Hilliard have been, what they are capable of and Miles' history with running backs.

Blue, a senior, was the opening day starter in 2012. And Blue was fast emerging as one of the SEC's up-and-coming stars when he suffered a torn ACL against Idaho, ending his season just as it was heating up.

Before the Idaho game, he had become the first LSU back to open the season with back-to-back 100-yard rushing games since 2008.

As for Hilliard, before Hill ever got his big chance, Hilliard had already made the SEC's all-freshman team in 2011. He fumbled twice in the Towson game in Week 5 and put himself into the doghouse and opened the door for Hill, who did most of his damage in the second half of the season.

"I had a bad game against Towson and they kind of held me accountable for it," Hilliard said.

Furthermore, at LSU, the norm has been to ride the hot back until he either gets hurt (like Blue) or in the doghouse (like Hilliard after the fumbles). Some, like Jacob Hester (2007) and Stevan Ridley (2010), prove to be durable and consistent enough to carry the load to the finish line.

That's more the exception than the rule.

Spencer Ware, the 2011 starter, lost his starting job after being suspended for the Auburn game for testing positive for synthetic marijuana. He was never the "man" in the LSU backfield again.

In 2012, with the injury to Blue and with Hilliard from favor, Ware still could not reconnect to his pre-suspension role. Before the Auburn suspension, Ware had 20-plus carries in five of LSU's first seven games in 2011, with the only exceptions being two blowout, bench-clearing wins.

In his final 18 games as a Tiger, he never toted the ball 20 times in a game again.

Could this be Hill's fate?

He is, after all, is a rare talent who many thought stood out among the crowd of backs who have taken their turns in LSU's backfield in recent seasons.

Even with his enormous talents, he has work to do. After all, it was Blue, not Hill, who was the opening day starter last year and who's to say a healthy Blue, whose receiving skills make him a great fit in Cam Cameron’s offense, wouldn't have earned that job back anyway? And while Hill appeared to be a faster version of Hilliard, will he still be faster than the lighter Hilliard?

While Miles welcomed Hill back to the team Monday, he also suggested he is playing catchup. Blue is running with the first team. Hilliard's in the mix. Hill, meanwhile, looks like he needs work.

"He's rusty as heck," Miles said after Hill's first practice. "I guarantee he didn't look anything like the Jeremy Hill we saw before. He better get back to practice if he expects to play at all."

That might sound like a lenient coach suggesting that all a troubled player needs to do is practice hard to get back to good graces.

As Hilliard and Ware in particular can attest, it's not that simple.

Hill may be back, but when, if ever, will he back?
It was a huge weekend for LSU football.

It was also a bit of a black eye for Tigers football.

On the same weekend LSU set an NFL record with six defensive players drafted in the first three rounds and a school record with nine players total getting picked, the Tigers also had two players arrested -- their leading rusher and a draft prospect two nights before he was picked.

[+] EnlargeJeremy Hill
AP Photo/Gerald HerbertJeremy Hill's arrest over the weekend was the latest in a series of disturbing events involving LSU football players.
For as much as LSU makes news with the talent it possesses, it seems like it spends as much time being discussed lately for off-field behavior of its players. After a weekend where LSU should have been celebrating its prolific production of pro talent, the Tigers are instead dealing with questions yet again about player conduct.

Jeremy Hill, who rushed for 755 yards and 12 touchdowns as a freshman in 2012, is the one dominating the headlines Monday.

Already on probation after pleading guilty to carnal knowledge of a juvenile, Hill was arrested Saturday night after allegedly punching someone outside a bar near LSU and subsequently has been charged with simple battery. He was suspended from the team indefinitely by coach Les Miles on Monday.

His arrest came two nights after former Tigers cornerback Tharold Simon was arrested on several charges, including public intimidation, in a dispute with police in his hometown of Eunice, La. Despite the arrest, Simon was drafted in the fifth round by the Seattle Seahawks.

(Read full post)

How does LSU produce so many NFL draft picks?

Recruiting is one good answer. Another is development.

The Tigers set an NFL draft record with six defensive players picked in the first two days (top three rounds), finishing with a school-record nine players drafted overall.

The Tigers did it with a mix of players: several who were highly regarded coming out of high school and lived up to the hype, and a surprising number of players who developed their talents after coming to Baton Rouge, La.

Of the nine Tigers picked, five were not ESPN 150 picks coming out of high school.

Here are LSU's draft picks, broken down by player, round drafted, team, recruiting year, star rating (if applicable) and ESPN 150 status
  • DE Barkevious Mingo, first round, Cleveland, 2009, (no star ratings in 2009 class or earlier), not in ESPN 150
  • S Eric Reid, first round, San Francisco, 2010, 4 star, No. 72 ESPN 150
  • LB Kevin Minter, second round, Arizona, 2009, No. 133 in ESPN 150
  • DT Bennie Logan, third round, Philadelphia, 2009, not in ESPN 150
  • DB Tyrann Mathieu, third round, Arizona, 2010, 3-star, not in ESPN 150
  • DE Sam Montgomery, third round, Houston, 2009, No. 26 in the ESPN 150
  • CB Tharold Simon, fifth round, Seattle, 2010, 4 star, No. 91 in the ESPN 150
  • DE Lavar Edwards, fifth round, Tennessee, 2008, not in the ESPN 150
  • RB Spencer Ware, sixth round, Seattle, 2010, 4 star, not in ESPN 150

GTN team mailbag: A better Mettenberger? 

April, 12, 2013
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Zach MettenbergerCal Sport Media via AP ImagesMuch is expected of LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger heading into his senior season.
BATON ROUGE, La. -- GTN writer Gary Laney took your questions about the Tigers as they headed to the home stretch of spring practice:

From: Tone (Denver): Gary, do you think Zach Mettenberger will be better prepared to perform at a higher level than last year?

BATON ROUGE, La. -- It's only going to look like an all-comer's combine.

LSU's Pro Day on Wednesday will feature a whopping 28 participants, the result of a year where the Tigers sent 13 players to the NFL combine. Among the players will will participate is former LSU player Tyrann Mathieu.

Of the 28, 21 were members of LSU's 2012 team, while seven more participants were members of past LSU teams and are trying to catch the interest of teams as free agents.

Fans can watch the event live on ESPN3 at 1 p.m. ET.

Here are the players who are participating, according to LSU:

2012 team members: DE Chauncey Aghayere, K Drew Alleman, TE Chase Clement, DT Josh Downs, OT Josh Dworaczyk, DE Lavar Edwards, OT Chris Faulk, RB Michael Ford, DT Bennie Logan, C P.J. Lonergan, DB-KR Tyrann Mathieu, DE Barkevious Mingo, LB Kevin Minter, DE Sam Montgomery, S Eric Reid, WR Russell Shepard, CB Tharold Simon, RB Spencer Ware, P Brad Wing, DT Cleveland Davis, TE Tyler Edwards

Past Players (last year at LSU): OG Will Blackwell (2011), LB-DB Karnell Hatcher (2011), OL T-Bob Hebert (2011), QB Jordan Jefferson (2011), QB Jarrett Lee (2011), DS Alex Russian (2011), RB Charles Scott (2009).
BATON ROUGE, La. -- When Michael Ford and Spencer Ware decided to leave LSU after their junior seasons, it left twice the opportunity for Terrence Magee to find his niche in the LSU backfield.

While neither Ford nor Ware was the Tigers' main back last season, both had niche roles based on specific skill sets that Magee also possesses.

[+] EnlargeGators
Kim Klement/US PresswireLSU's Terrence Magee (center) played WR last season, and that boosts his confidence in taking on a hybrid role this season.
For Ford, it was his speed to get to the edge, a role the speedy Magee would be a strong candidate to inherit.

"But Michael didn't really catch passes," Magee noted.

That duty was largely the responsibility of Ware, who led LSU running backs -- and was tied for fourth on the team -- with 18 catches for 230 yards and a touchdown.

It just so happens that Magee moved to wide receiver for much of last season, his sophomore year. So now, back at running back, he has to feel good about his chances at getting to play one, if not both, roles this season, thus earning the first significant playing time in his college career.

"I feel like I do a good job of getting out of the backfield and catching passes and being the check-down for the quarterback," he said. "I also feel that I can run it as well as [the other] guys too."

LSU's first scrimmage Saturday seemed to affirm his belief. He led the team with 60 rushing yards on 10 carries and also caught two passes out of the backfield, one for a touchdown.

(Read full post)

SEC sends several RBs to NFL combine

February, 19, 2013
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Several of RecruitingNation's SEC sites will look this week at the players headed to the NFL combine, which begins Friday in Indianapolis. Today: Quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers.

LSU Tigers


Perhaps it says something about LSU's offense in 2012 that among a record 13 players invited to the NFL combine from the Tigers, only two are offensive skill players who are generally considered, at this point, marginal talents. Running backs Spencer Ware and Michael Ford are the only skill players invited to Indianapolis, which is understandable when one considers LSU was 10th in the SEC in total offense. It's also a sign of youth. Quarterback Zach Mettenberger, fullback J.C. Copeland, running back Jeremy Hill and all of LSU's primary threats at wide receiver will return in 2013.

(Read full post)

What would Cameron mean to offense? 

February, 11, 2013
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- It's not official yet, but it looks like LSU will probably soon have a new offensive coordinator in Cam Cameron.

For an offense not known for its passing game, it's an interesting choice,

[+] EnlargeCam Cameron
Rob Carr/Getty ImagesCam Cameron could be the guy to bring LSU's passing game to the next level.
Known as a follower of the "Air Coryell" offense popularized by Don Coryell's late-70s San Diego Chargers teams, Cameron has a history with successful quarterbacks. At Michigan, he tutored future NFL quarterbacks Elvis Grbac and Todd Collins as QB coach from 1990-93, working alongside Michigan assistant coach Les Miles. With the Washington Redskins, he coached Gus Frerotte to his only Pro Bowl.

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LSU has 13 invited to combine

February, 7, 2013
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- If there's any doubt why LSU will continue to land top-notch talent in recruiting, Thursday gave an answer.

LSU had 13 players invited to the NFL draft combine Feb. 20-26 in Indianapolis, Ind., the most of any school in the nation. Among the 13, which includes ex-Tiger Tyrann Mathieu, only two were seniors. The other 11 left college with eligibility remaining.

It's one more than the total mustered by Florida State.

LSU set a record when 11 players opted to leave school a year early to enter the draft. That all 11 were invited to the combine affirms that the departures were legitimate. The combine only takes the players it deems most likely to have a chance to get drafted or make a team.

The 11 underclassmen invited were: defensive ends Barkevious Mingo, safety Eric Reid, linebacker Kevin Minter, defensive end Sam Montgomery, defensive tackle Bennie Logan, cornerbacks Mathieu and Tharold Simon, offensive tackle Chris Faulk, running backs Michael Ford and Spencer Ware and punter Brad Wing.

The two seniors were defensive end Lavar Edwards and center P.J. Lonergan.

There were 333 players on the list, 79 from the SEC. LSU was one of four SEC schools to have double-digits invited to the combine. Georgia had 11 players invited and Alabama and Georgia each had 10 invited.

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