Sunday, July 28, 2013

Jeremy Hill Matters

LSU's offense, as designed by Les Miles, relies heavily on a stable of big, powerful running backs to wear down opposing defenses.  This strategy is about ball control, field position, and keeping defensive focus on the line of scrimmage, hopefully creating one-on-one mismatches up field.

LSU's offense, as designed by Cam Cameron?  Well, we don't know yet.  First of all, WILL LSU's offense be designed by Cam Cameron?  Many LSU fans would pessimistically say Les Miles will continue to drive the overall strategy.  That aside, if Cameron is given free rein, its likely he'll open things up a bit more.  But it is Les Miles' team. I'd be surprised if the running game doesn't remain the dominant feature of the LSU offense.  In 2013, I'd bet that the run will continue to set up the pass, and not the other way around.

Which brings me to Jeremy Hill. 
After allegedly punching a man in the head in a bar fight, Hill remains indefinitely suspended as his legal case processes through the courts.  I'm not going to opine about whether Hill should've been arrested for a campus bar fight.  The fact is - he's not currently allowed to practice, or workout, or meet with the team.  This, in my opinion, matters.  Hill's absence, like Tyrann Mathieu's absence last season, will impact the success of LSU's 2013 campaign.

Alfred Blue and Kenny Hilliard both have Les Miles' confidence.  Both have shown that they are SEC caliber running backs.  And Terrance Magee, although small, is a quality athlete in his own right.  But there's a reason Hill led LSU backs as a freshman.  He's very, very good.  Losing an athlete like that takes a weapon away.

There is another consideration - a more systemic problem.  LSU has used two to three running backs in a standard rotation for years.  That system is only effective if all of the running backs are roughly playing at the same level of effectiveness.  If one or more backs are clearly less effective, the offense suddenly becomes very predictable.  (Well, considering LSU's predictability in the recent past, perhaps it's better to say EVEN MORE predictable.)  With Hill in the mix, LSU was far more likely to have at least two top shelf backs.  Without Hill, it remains questionable whether two out of Blue, Hilliard and Magee will deliver consistently strong performances through the season.  And it's up to those three, because beyond them, there isn't anyone else of proven SEC caliber.

There is another player in this drama - fullback J. C. Copeland.  Some pundits have said Copeland may be the best fullback in the country next season.  His blocking will be key to LSU's running success.  But, unlike Jacob Hester (who could play both positions), Copeland cannot play running back.  He's a bruiser, not a cruiser.

Without a strong running game, more pressure will be put on Mettenberger, both in terms of an ears' back pass rush from opposing defenses not worried about the running game, and in terms of LSU needing some offensive production from somewhere.  Mettenberger saw some of this last season.   In my opinion, he didn't fare very well.  If last season can be taken as a barometer of this season, even some improvement of Mettenberger's game will not mean he becomes the kind of quarterback who can make something out of nothing. 

Of course, the biggest wild card in all of this is Cam Cameron.  How much impact will he have had on the quarterbacks, including Mettenberger?  How much will Les Miles loosen the reins of the offense with Cameron as the offensive coordinator? 

Another wild card - which young, unproven offensive player will step up to be this year's unexpected breakout difference maker?  Freshman wideout Travin Dural, who seems to be on many pundits' short lists of players to watch?  Or will Magee turnout to be a Jacob Hester type of back, unsung and under many radars, but with enough heart to make up for his small stature?  Hester carried the 2007 team on his shoulders in many cases.  Can Magee (or someone else) achieve such a feat?

Hill's absence will matter, especially in the heart of the SEC schedule when one of the main running backs and one or more of the offensive line is liable to be dinged or worse.  And, by then, opposing defensive coordinators will have enough film to be able to make good guesses about play calling.  At those times, it's talent that matters most.  Hill is very talented.  And if he's not there, we'll all feel it, I think.

Putting aside the argument about personal accountability and whether Hill's problems are significant enough to warrant his current legal status, one thing is certain in my mind:  I'd feel a lot more comfortable about November if I knew Jeremy Hill would be in the running back rotation for the Tigers.

C'est la vie.

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