Blue, Muncie go from forgotten to starters

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Before Alfred Blue and Luke Muncie were named LSU's starters at their respective positions Monday, they shared a common trait:

Both juniors were seemingly forgotten men at their positions, at least from the outside.

Until a recent surge that included back-to-back 100-yard scrimmage performances, Blue was probably fifth among the running backs in terms of generating outside conversation. As for Muncie, he was all but out of most outside discussions of linebackers who might be a factor.

But there they were Monday at the top of the LSU depth chart, proof that what happens in August matters and nobody is safely in or out of a position.

"I've waited my entire career," said Muncie, who has bounced around positions and struggled to find his on-field niche before getting the nod at strong-side linebacker for Saturday's season opener against North Texas. "I feel like I'm ready to contribute to this team big-time. I'm just very excited and very happy to do it."

Just days before his name appeared at the top of the depth chart, Blue contemplated what he'd do if he wasn't part of the tandem head coach Les Miles wanted at the running back position to start the season.

"Just stay humble," Blue said. "Play special teams or whatever they want you to do."

Instead, he's sitting at the top of the depth chart instead of the Tigers' top two rushers from a season ago, Michael Ford and Spencer Ware. In fact, Blue and Kenny Hilliard will form the top tandem after finishing third and fourth on the team in rushing last season.

"Frankly," Miles said, "they had better camps."

How unlikely were Blue and Muncie were as starters? Probably not as much as they appeared to be. While both had help from the academic misfortune of their competitors, both Blue and Muncie had good camps.

Muncie was contending for a starting job in the spring and, after battling Lamin Barrow on the weakside, he started for an injured Tahj Jones on the strong side in the spring game.

Several factors pushed his name out of the discussion. Upon Jones' return from injury, he seemed a solid starter at strongside linebacker and Miles named Barrow the starter at weakside linebacker. Add a much-ballyhooed six-man freshman class had everybody's attention during August and backup juniors were forgotten. Instead, the thought was whether or not Kwon Alexander was going to be ready?

Blue had a similar experience.

Unlike Muncie, he was more established as a player. He was third on the Tigers with 539 yards rushing last season, and his 6.9 average per carry was best on the team.

But most assumed that Ware, who finished with 707 yards rushing after a fast start last season, and Ford, who led LSU with 756 rushing yards, would emerge. If not them, it would be Hilliard, who came on late in his freshman season to be a surprisingly effective physical back. Even true freshman Jeremy Hill showed promise and came to LSU was a resume that had people buzzing.

So what happened?

If one had paid attention, you would have seen it coming.

Blue led LSU in rushing in the last two of the Tigers' three major August scrimmages. In both scrimmages, Hilliard was right behind while Ford and Ware were banged up.

Defensive statistics were generally not available after scrimmages, but the finger-in-the-wind test hinted towards Muncie performing well.

Weeks before Monday's depth chart was released, middle linebacker Kevin Minter, the only returning starter among Tigers linebackers, suggested that Muncie's name was not one to forget.

"He's going to play a lot," he said, noting that Muncie's versatility would serve him well.

It turns out, when he switched from the weak side to the strong side in the spring, it proved to be more than a little helpful.

Miles said both Jones and Ford were having academic issues that have them both going through an appeal process to try to stay in good academic standing to play (a process likely slowed by Hurricane's Isaac impact on LSU's campus). With Jones' status questionable, Muncie's knowledge at the position made him an easy choice. At running back, the speedy Blue is the most comparable back to the also-fast Ford, and he and Hilliard form the speed and power tandem Miles likes.

So a starting spot to open the season should not surprise for either. Holding the positions long term? That's another question.

"Generally speaking, you win the position in games," Miles said. "Seldom do you win the position in a practice schedule."