Position switches nothing new for LSU fullbacks

BATON ROUGE, La. – At about this time a year ago, John David Moore first shifted from tight end to fullback. Now he’s the most experienced blocking back on LSU’s roster.

Because of the Tigers’ shallow depth at fullback last season – especially compared to their talent-rich tight end group – Moore saw the move as his best opportunity to play. It paid off when he appeared in eight games in 2014 and put himself in position to become a backfield regular this fall.

“It was really just a need that needed to be filled. They were just kind of shallow at that position and deeper at tight end,” Moore said. “I’m willing to fit in where I can get in. I’d play punter if they’d let me, and I’ll do whatever to get on the field.”

The departures of last season’s top two fullbacks, Connor Neighbors and Melvin Jones, left Moore as the Tigers’ only player at the position with any game experience. He has company in the fullback rotation this spring, but the other leading contenders are also new to the position.

Among them are early enrollee David Ducre, who is also getting practice reps at tailback, redshirt freshman Tony Upchurch, who was a wide receiver until a few weeks ago, and a collection of walk-ons.

Ducre and Upchurch have a lot to learn about playing fullback, which places some teaching responsibility on their more experienced teammate’s shoulders as well.

“We’ve got some young guys that just need to learn the classroom stuff so they can apply it on the field,” Moore said. “So that’s where I can be helpful in that role.”

Ducre, whom LSU recruitniks have dubbed as the Tigers’ fullback of the future, and Upchurch are also working together to gain a better grasp on their new position. Learning new blocking techniques, how to hit holes and how to read defenses from the backfield is no simple feat, so they’ve become a tag team as they navigate the transition.

“We’re actually working together as far as in the team meeting room,” Upchurch said. “We kind of quiz each other on what we’ve got on this, what we’ve got on that, so it’s going to work hand in hand.”

It’s unusual to see a player with a jersey number in the 80s – typically a numerical range reserved for receivers and tight ends – lining up in the backfield. But Upchurch is still wearing No. 81 as he learns to block for Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris instead of catching passes from the Tigers’ two quarterbacks.

Nonetheless, he still expects to catch a pass here or there.

“Fullback, I feel like I can be moved around just as well,” Upchurch said. “I have hands; I can contribute to the team as far as catching-wise. So I think it’s going to be a pretty good position for me.”

Upchurch’s move was partially dictated by the depth issues at the position and partially due to his own problems with his weight. Listed at 230 pounds on LSU’s spring roster, Upchurch was a big-bodied receiver, but that size makes him a more natural fit at fullback.

He said he quickly adjusted to the heavy contact at the position, although his only previous backfield experience came at tailback in high school.

“It took a good while for me to get the weight down, but it’s all right,” Upchurch said. “Fullback is kind of a good position for me. I kind of like it so far.”

Upchurch’s switch from receiver is a new twist on a years-old storyline at LSU. The Tigers’ fullbacks in recent years frequently arrived at the position after starting their careers elsewhere. Neighbors and Jones were both linebackers when they started at LSU and former starter J.C. Copeland signed as a defensive lineman before shifting to the backfield.

“I learned a lot from Connor just about how to be a student of the game and then technique,” Moore said. “Blocking is very different from tight end to fullback, so [I focused on] just learning those techniques and nuances, learning from him, who is one of the best in the game.”

Now he and Upchurch are trying to make the switch as effectively as Neighbors, who developed into one of the nation’s top fullbacks – as evidenced by his invitation to the Senior Bowl at the end of last season – by the time he completed his college career.

Neighbors and the new fullbacks’ other predecessors certainly proved that a switch to fullback can work out well for all involved. At least one of the new players at the position seems likely to carry on that LSU tradition.