Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Most anticipated redshirt freshman running back... ever?

"Going into the spring I've heard comments that coach Miles has said that I'll be the guy because that's how I ended the season," Williams said. "But we have a redshirt freshman, Richard Murphy. He's just excellent, great athleticism."
Keiland Williams

Richard Murphy is a redshirt freshman running back. This means, in case you don't know, that he joined the team last year, eligible to play, and did not play. Not one down. On a team that saw two different true freshman get starts a running back, Richard Murphy sat the bench the entire season. This year, people expect him to compete with Keiland Williams and Jacob Hester to be the #1 guy at the tailback spot.

The words from Keiland Williams raised the volume on a year of whispers. If you paid attention to the message boards and to the "inside information" between August 2006 and now, you'd have occasionally heard someone say, "I hear Richard Murphy tears it up in practice." The secret seems to be out now.

It's kind of like when Cecil Collins was coming off of his Prop 48 year (except, thankfully, there are no indications of any bad behavior on Richard Murphy's part). I remember, in particular, Poseur telling me that Cecil ws the best running back on the team, a team that included Kevin Faulk and Rondell Mealey. He was right, but a fat lot of good it did us.

But back to Richard Murphy and all the talk about him. Keiland's quote above (slightly out of context, but that just makes me like all the other members of the sports media) was actually the second incident to raise the volume on Richard Murphy. The first was when all-world recruit Joe McKnight decided to sign with USC rather than LSU a month ago. People perceive, rightly or wrongly, that Richard Murphy brings the type of game that Joe McKnight was expected to bring: a speed back who can excel on the edge and in the passing game. When McKnight signed with USC at a press conference on National Signing Day televised live on ESPNU (he was considered the#1 prospect in the country according to at least one publication), LSU fans were distraught, but almost to a man each one of us said something like, "I bet Murphy is happy today" or "With Richard Murphy here, we won't miss him."

The whispers grew louder. Then Keiland Williams gave the Tiger faithful some red meat to chew on. Now, despite not having been in a game even once, people are penciling Richard Murphy into the two-deep and are expecting big things from him.

You may be asking, if he's so good, why didn't he play last year when we were hurting for a good running game. We know that he got to Fall Practice really late because the NCAA Clearinghouse didn't certify his ACT score until about a week or two into practice. Without that, the NCAA bars you from practicing with the team. Rumor has it that after he came into practice and saw that he was far behind the other freshmen running backs in learning the college game, he asked to redshirt.

How good is he? Hell, I have no idea, but I think I trust Keiland's opinion. He has no high school video on YouTube, but all college running backs look alike to me on high school highlight videos. They all look like the best athlete on the field, and like no one can tackle them. On his Rivals videos, he is elusive, but not a bruiser. He eludes and breaks tackles with quickness. He looks like the type who isn't going to run over a linebacker, but instead will try to make him miss or try to prevent him from getting a solid hit. Similar in style to Keiland Williams.

What is unusual about this is that it is very rare for really good running backs to redshirt. Running back is one of those positions that a true freshman can generally come in and contribute immediately if he's really good. While every position player has to learn a lot coming into college, running backs have a lot less to learn about technique and basic skills than quarterbacks, offensive linemen, corners, or even wide receivers. Freshmen running backs do well every year, and it even spills over to the NFL, where rookie running backs often produce very well.

I simply do not remember a single running back who sat out his entire true freshman year, despite being academically eligible, and was expected to be as good as Murphy is expected to be in his second year. Backs who are expected to be that good just aren't redshirted. They play.

Of course, I do not think that LSU fans are above over-hyping a player, but I'm also not sure this is an example of overhype. Too many people who are much better at evaluating talent than I am have said to watch out for this kid. So now, I'm adding to the hype. Watch out for this kid, and don't be surprised if he is our best running back in 2007.


Anonymous said...

Your blog as a whole is a good read. Keep up the good work.

Richard Pittman said...

Thanks. It's getting harder with a little baby in the house, but that's why I wrote a LOT about a month ago. I'll have to start doing a lot of writing again soon, or I'll run out of stuff to say.