Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of stories on the 2022 LSU football team. Today: The running backs.
There’s plenty of room for LSU’s running back position to evolve into a one-man show.
But until then, expect the Tigers to be a sum of their parts at one of the most critical areas on the field.
With 1,000-yard rusher (actually 1,003 yards) Ty Davis-Price departed to the NFL, a third-round choice of the San Francisco 49ers, the Tigers brought back running backs coach Frank Wilson to help formulate a running game that’s devoid of a true lead back.
Instead, the Tigers will rely more on a revolving door of steady runners, capable of both running
and catching the ball out of the backfield. One of the expected members of that group, junior Tre’ Bradford, has been “removed from the university” LSU coach Brian Kelly said August 4.
“Our depth chart’s etched in sand,” said Wilson, who coached at McNeese State previous to his time at LSU in the same role from 2010-15. “When we get into a game situation and (head) coach (Brian) Kelly and (offensive coordinator) coach (Mike) Denbrock say, ‘Who you want?’ We say it doesn’t matter who plays, they all bite. They’re all trained to be the starter. We have four or five guys that can start.”
LSU’s most recognizable backfield name didn’t take a snap last year.
Senior John Emery Jr., who scored four touchdowns during LSU’s national championship season in 2019, missed the entire 2021 season because of academics. Instead of turning professional, the 5-foot-11, 220-pound native of Destrehan returned for another year and is expected to be a leader in the backfield.
Emery has started in three of 19 career games and rushed 114 times for 566 yards – or six yards a carry and seven touchdowns. He’s also caught 20 passes for 133 yards.
There’s plenty of opportunity for candidates to step into a prime role for LSU, which lost both of
its top rushers in Davis-Price and Corey Kiner, transferred to Cincinnati. Junior Josh Williams is the Tigers’ top returning rusher with 107 yards on 23 carries and no touchdowns.
Sophomore speedster Armoni Goodwin was limited because of injury to six games in ’21, rushing 16 times for 65 yards.
Emery returned to action during spring practice and, despite an ankle injury, carried four times for 24 yards and scored a touchdown in LSU’s spring game. Bradford had nine attempts for a game-high 85 yards, Williams added 10 carries for 51 yards and Goodwin scored twice and had 71 yards on nine carries.
The competition in the preseason will heat up with the arrival of junior Noah Cain, an NCAA transfer portal signee from Penn State.
The 5-11, 226-pound Cain, a native of Baton Rouge, started in eight of 24 games over three seasons and rushed 192 times for 790 yards and 12 touchdowns for the Nittany Lions. He also had 24 catches for 154 yards.
Cain, who played at Guyer High in Texas before finishing at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, enjoyed a solid freshman season at Penn State. His eight rushing TDs in 2019 were a single-season freshman record that ranked him second in the Big 10 and fourth nationally among true freshmen. He wound up with 84 carries for 443 yards on the year.
A year after being redshirted following an injury in the first game of the ’20 season, Cain rebounded last year with 105 attempts for 334 yards and four TDs.
They’re all going to have a great chance to contribute,” Kelly said of his running backs.
“I really like the depth of the group. You add Cain to that mix. All of them have a chance to contribute, much like we saw in the spring game when we had a lot of guys contribute. I think that’s probably what’s going to happen here this year and I’m OK with that. I think that’s great.”