Thursday, August 23, 2007

Wait or Go

A few more words about running backs. A lot of people think that playing running back in college is just about getting the ball and running around a lot. They think a guy can come in out of high school and simply pick up where he left off.

In truth, few players are able to do this because there is a lot to learn about playing running back that few people learn in high school, and most of them (even the good ones) aren't nearly talented enough to simply play the high school tactic of "give me the ball and no one can tackle me." Even Darren McFadden wasn't good enough to do it. He didn't get a 100 yard rushing game until his 5th college game.

What does a running back have to learn. I can think of a few things, and there are probably even more than this:
  1. How to run without fumbling or being stripped of the ball.
  2. How to pass block.
  3. How to read blockers and defense.
In high school, few defensive players are strong enough or know enough about stripping technique to take the ball away from a talented running back. In college, everyone is strong enough to do it, and practices it. If you don't carry the ball correctly out of habit, you'll lose it.

In a college passing game, everyone has to be pushing in the same direction. If your assignment is to read a blitz and pick it up before going out into a pass pattern, you will get your QB hurt and your offense off the field if you fail to do it. If you can't pass block, you can't play on passing downs. If you can't play on passing downs, you can't play, because your presence on the field will tip the defense that the next play is a run.

The third thing is particularly difficult to pick up, and difficult to explain. Young running backs often do one of two things. They either fail to wait for their blockers and run headlong into the defense only to get tackled unnecessarily, or they wait for the gaping holes they got in high school to open up, and they never do, leading to a tackle for loss when the running back fails to get moving forward. Call it "impatient" and "too patient". A running back who gets a feel for when to wait and when to go makes himself a lot more productive. That is what Charles Scott was talking about when he said, "A lot of the game is slowing down for me. My reads are a whole lot better." He's saying he now knows when to wait and when to go, when he didn't know that before.

Fans who don't understand these concepts are the ones who always say, "We should have been playing Keiland Williams earlier in 2006." Nevermind that by Keiland's own admission he wasn't ready and was slow learning the things he needed to know. They scoff when you suggest that lack of competence in pass blocking can keep a running back off the field. They are absolutely wrong.

LSU does not have a great running back right now. We don't have a Reggie Bush or a Darren McFadden. But we do have several very good running backs. And they're learning. I can't wait to see them go next Thursday.

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