When Katy (Texas) High School running back Adam Taylor made public his decision to commit to LSU last week, it was a surprise in many ways.
Mainly, it threw people for a curve because running back did not seem like a pressing need for the Tigers. LSU has its four best running backs returning and it got even better with the addition of Jeremy Hill, a much ballyhooed 2011 prospect who had to wait a year to sign because of off-the-field legal issues that have since been resolved, clearing the way for him to be part of the 2012 class.
And to make adding a running back even more perplexing is the fact that not one of the six running backs on the 2012 Tigers roster will be a senior.
So why would it make sense for LSU to take a commitment from a running back for the 2013 class?
There are two reasons.
1. The more, the better: LSU employs a committee approach at running back and opportunities exist especially if the back is a big, physical presence like the 210-pound Taylor appears to have the potential to be.
In the seven seasons Les Miles has been LSU's head coach, he has been committed to a physical running game, yet he has had a running back accumulate 200 or more carries only three times. In other words, the carries get split and often what back gets featured will change from week to week.
LSU is coming off a season when no running back had more than 177 carries (by Spencer Ware) and four running backs had at least 62 carries (not including the 75 carries by quarterback Jordan Jefferson). Three running backs started at least one game and one can argue that four running backs could have been identified as the "main" back at different points of the season.
This happened without any of them missing significant playing time due to injury.
In a perfect world, it seems the way Miles likes it. The carries were never more evenly distributed than in 2006, when not one Tiger managed 100 carries on the season despite LSU piling up 2,398 rushing yards and 23 touchdowns while averaging a solid 4.8 yards a carry.
The use for big, physical backs doesn't end at tailback. LSU's had a history of mixing in their large tailbacks -- and Miles certainly seems to prefer the large, physical tailback -- at fullback.
The hot back down the stretch last year for LSU was true freshman Kenny Hilliard and early in the season he was mostly playing fullback. One might remember Jacob Hester, the feature back on the 2007 national championship team whose 225 carries that year was the second most in a season by any Miles LSU back. He started his LSU career as a fullback and has since returned to that position for the San Diego Chargers.
Similarly, Stevan Ridley, whose 249 carries in 2010 were the most in a single season by any Miles back at LSU, also played some fullback during his career, as did 2008 and 2009 rushing leader Charles Scott.
2. The future's not as far away as you think: While the position seems well-stocked for the immediate future, Ridley's story reminds us of why LSU's backfield may not be as stockpiled for the future as it looks at first glance. Ridley ran for 1,147 yards as a junior in 2010, then bolted for the NFL a year early and played last year for the New England Patriots.
While Ridley, a third-round pick by New England, was not a can't-miss talent one usually associates with early draft entries, in its own way, his departure made sense. In LSU's share-the-wealth backfield, it was unlikely Ridley would be able to top his junior year numbers as a senior. Chances were, between potential injuries and the development of some younger backs, he would not get as many carries as the 249 totes he got his junior year.
It happened to his predecessor, Scott, who maybe should have left school after his 1,174-yard 2008 season. He came back, struggled, then saw his senior season end prematurely because of a broken collarbone and his draft stock dropped.
For Ridley, there was probably a better chance for his stock to drop after 2010 there was for it to rise when he was a senior. So he left while the iron was hot.
If a "hot" back emerges from the current stable, this might happen again.
LSU will have three junior running backs: 2011 rushing leader Michael Ford (772 yards on 127 carries in 2011), Ware (707 yards) and Alfred Blue (78-539). If any of them emerge from their peers next year, they might be advised to follow Ridley's footsteps and avoid Scott's fate.
You also never know when one of the members of the "stable" might want to go somewhere where he might be more featured. Jakhari Gore, one of three true freshmen to get carries in 2011 (along with Hilliard and Terrance Magee), left the program.
And even if a junior doesn't go pro after next season, LSU would lose three seniors after 2013 and would all of a sudden have a need at the position.
Who's next?: Taylor struck his claim last week. But he certainly might not be the one, or only.
He missed the majority of the 2011 season with a torn left ACL. Certainly, his return from that injury is something LSU will monitor closely.
One can certainly expect LSU to keep an eye on other backs. One with a Tigers offer will be a cross-town rival of Taylor's, Katy Cinco Ranch's Jamel James, a four-star prospect with a longer offer sheet that includes USC, Florida State and Arkansas.
Kailo Moore, a four-star Mississippi prospect who was once committed to Ole Miss, but has re-opened his recruitment and currently sports an Alabama offer, is also interested in the Tigers.