Wednesday, August 7, 2013
Hill's back, but is starring role waiting?
By Gary Laney
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.
Jeremy 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?