LSU freshman running backs battling for playing time

Leonard Fournette will get the lion's share of LSU's carries when healthy, but Tigers coach Les Miles typically likes to share the load. AP Photo/Gerald Herbert

BATON ROUGE, La. – Rest assured that Leonard Fournette will handle the largest percentage of LSU’s rushing attempts this season. But the Tigers’ star sophomore can’t handle them all, which indicates that his freshman teammates will also contribute in the backfield.

LSU has added four freshman running backs, at least a couple of whom seem ready to play at least as much as Fournette’s backfield mate, Darrel Williams, did last season as a freshman.

Let’s start with Derrius Guice, who became something of a viral sensation among LSU fans lately when scrimmage video circulated of him making exceptional runs after catching screen passes. LSU coach Les Miles this week called Guice “a wildly athletic man.”

The versatility in the 222-pound Guice’s game has made it clear that he will certainly get some carries, and he might also steal some opportunities from Fournette as a kickoff returner.

“He has a skill set that’s a little different than some of our guys,” Miles said. “He’s not the same runner as really any of the other guys. He’s elusive and he’s physical and he’s a very hard runner, so I think he’s going to continue to develop extremely well. I think for a freshman, he’s in position to carry the ball and be a part of the offensive threat. I look forward to calling his number.”

It’s entirely possible that freshman tailback Nick Brossette will also figure into the Tigers’ offensive plans this season if past trends are any indication. In each of the last four seasons, four LSU players carried the ball at least 64 times. With only Fournette and Williams returning from the 2014 backfield, Guice and Brossette are next in line.

Brossette, who set a Louisiana state record with 141 career touchdowns at Baton Rouge’s University High School, is also ready to roll.

“We got him on the practice field and you could immediately see why [Brossette set records] – he cuts, he’s bright as a whip, great ball skills – just a guy that you love putting in the game because he knows exactly what to do, even as a true freshman,” Miles said.

The Tigers also added fullbacks David Ducre and Bry’Kiethon Mouton this year, and Ducre might just get some carries himself. The early enrollee estimated that he spent 60 percent of his time at tailback during spring practice, but shifted to 90 percent fullback once Guice and Brossette arrived for preseason camp.

Ducre said he and Mouton will be excited to block for their fellow freshmen if and when they get the opportunity.

“It’s very exciting for me, especially since the fact that all four of us have become so close over the past few months,” Ducre said. “Now it makes blocking for them that much easier, because they’re like brothers to me.”

For his part, Williams said early in camp that he no longer expected to play the fullback role when the Tigers shift to two-tailback alignments, as they did in some short-yardage situations last season. Asked for a reason, Williams replied, “They’ve got David Ducre. I guess he can step in and do the things I was doing at fullback.”

Regardless, all four tailbacks should get some carries, with perhaps some Ducre totes sprinkled in. The larger question is how much will be left after Fournette gets the lion’s share.

Only twice in Miles’ 10 years at LSU has a back handled as much as 40 percent of the team’s total rushing attempts: Charles Scott in 2008 (43.8 percent) and Stevan Ridley in 2010 (46.3). Jeremy Hill nearly made it three in 2013, and he would have done so if not for a one-game suspension to open the season. Hill accounted for 42.7 percent of the carries and 57.9 percent of the rushing yards in the 12 games in which he played that season.

Fournette got 30.1 percent of the carries last season, and that number is almost sure to climb this fall. Williams will get his touches as well after showing both power and shiftiness in limited work as a freshman.

Once you see Guice and Brossette with the ball in their hands, it’s clear that they possess the running ability to make an instant impact this fall. As with Fournette and Williams at this point last season, they still have to learn the nuances of playing the position in college – ball protection, picking up blitzing linebackers, reading blocks, etc. – but their potential is obvious.

“The main thing for us freshmen is just learning the concepts and being more comfortable with our surroundings on the field and off the field,” Guice said. “So we’re just learning and still maturing and we have a long ways to go."