ATLANTA – When it comes to the mother hen and his running backs, this week is like any other for LSU junior Clyde Edwards-Helaire.
Yes, the No. 1 unbeaten Tigers biggest game since 2011 is only three days away, a CFP semifinal here Saturday afternoon against No. 4 once-beaten Oklahoma in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl.
Yes, it still isn’t known if Edwards-Helaire will play after sustaining a hamstring injury more than a week ago.
But ask true freshmen Tyrion Davis-Price and John Emery Jr. and freshman redshirt Chris Curry if they are eager for the challenge of replacing Edwards-Helaire by committee.
They all agree is Edwards-Helaire, who this season has rushed for 1,290 yards, has 50 receptions and has scored 17 TDs, is doing what he always does, which is preparing them for the moment.
“He stays on us, makes sure we know our stuff,” Davis-Price said during Thursday’s LSU portion of CFP Media Day staged at the College Football of Fame.
“We don’t know if he’s going to play, but he’s given me and Tyrion (and Curry) a lot of advice,” Emery Jr. said. “He trusts us.”
“Clyde’s amazing, he brings stuff to the table nobody else brings,” Curry said. “He sees things I don’t see. We’re really ready for this game.”
Edwards-Helaire was the only LSU player absent from Media Day. He was presumably at the team hotel taking treatment. Later at the team’s early afternoon practice in Mercedes-Benz Stadium, he wasn’t seen during the 15-minute media access period.
LSU coach Ed Orgeron said if Edwards-Helaire is medically cleared to play, the final decision will come from Edwards-Helaire.
“With the game on the line, if he can possibly play, he’ll try to play,” Orgeron said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen. He may play the whole game or play one snap.
“You have to take out the `win at all costs’ and put the player first. If the trainers and doctors say he’s ready, I’m going to Clyde for the final say-so. If he says `Yes’, he’ll play. If he says `Coach, I don’t think I can go’ he won’t play.’”
In the meantime, the Tigers’ six-legged, three-headed backup running back with a combined 551 rushing yards and nine TDs on 118 carries and 18 catches for 148 receiving yards is ready, able and willing.
“I live by the motto `stay ready so you don’t have to get ready’ because you never know what’s going to happen,” said Davis-Price, who has 270 rushing yards and six TDs. “I never know when I’m going to get in games or not get in, so the reps I do take I try to cherish every moment.”
Curry, who agrees with Orgeron that ball security is a priority – “You can’t drop the money,” he said – said Orgeron has mentally conditioned the Tigers to handle the adversity of unexpected injuries.
“Since I’ve been here, Coach O has talked about `next man up’,” Curry said. “We all pride ourselves on that.”
There’s also no panic if Edwards-Helaire can’t play because more assuredly he’ll affect the game through the three understudies he took under his wing.
The relationship of Baton Rouge natives Edwards-Helaire (Catholic High) and Davis-Price (Southern Lab) dates back to when they were seven years old and playing on opposite teams.
“He’d win one year, I’d win one year,” Davis-Price said. “I remember one game like it was yesterday. You couldn’t even touch him. It was amazing. It looked like he was playing on a higher level than us, even back then.
“I knew he’d be able to teach me a lot of things. We’ve communicated through the years keeping in contact because we knew we’d eventually play with each other again.”
Which happened last summer when the newbies joined Edwards-Helaire for the team’s off-season workouts as he accepted the role as leader of the running backs room.
“It feels different,” Edwards-Helaire said in August at the start of preseason practice. “You walk in and still feel like one of the younger guys, then, you realize I have two classes who have come up under me. It’s my responsibility to tell them the right and wrong things to do.
“They (the true freshmen) are excellent backs and great athletes. And those guys are smart. They do what they are told. That’s the best thing about them. You tell them one time to correct something and it’s fixed. That’s what you want in a running back.”
Oregron said Edwards-Helaire is what you’d want in a mentor.
“Those guys came in this summer, they were big names and everybody said that they’d take Clyde’s place,” Orgeron said. “I knew that wouldn’t happen. Clyde’s a competitor.
“Even early when he was competing and not having all the success he eventually had, he was still teaching them. This week, he has been very instrumental.”
Davis-Price, Emery Jr. and Curry agree Edwards-Helaire is a great teacher.
“It’s mainly the small stuff that matters,” Davis-Price said.” It’s the details in your (pass) route, the detail in your track, your footsteps after you get the ball. He taught me what to look for at the line of scrimmage.”
Emery Jr., a five-star prospect from Destrehan High where he was rated as the nation’s No. 2 high school running back by 247Sports, said he was surprised as Edwards-Helaire’s willingness to help him.
“Me being a five-star running back, you wouldn’t expect him to be so friendly,” Emery Jr. said of Edwards-Helaire. “He was willing to give up all his advice to help the team, He gave me some pointers I’d never seen as a running back as far as techniques and reading defenses.
“Clyde knows his stuff, he was taught well playing behind guys like Derrius Guice and Darrel Williams.”
Curry said Edwards-Helaire’s attention to detail is second-to-none.
“He sees things I don’t see,” Curry said. “I might come back to the sideline and he’ll say `You could have cut this way and I had a long run.’
I’m like `Man, I gotta watch it on tape.’ When I watch it and I’m saying `Oh man, it’s right there.’”
LSU Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Joe Burrow has faith in the young backs, but still believes Edwards-Helaire doesn’t want to miss the fun on Saturday.
“I’m comfortable with all those guys,” Burrow said, “but I think Clyde will be just fine.”