Jeremy Hill emerged as the clear No. 1 running back this season, the closest LSU has had to a true featured back in years. (Associated Press)
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 15, 2014 11:33 AM
I thought I’d heard it all when a well-meaning fan sidled up and offered that, “Sounds like maybe LSU pressured Jeremy Hill to leave.”
Well, of course.
Who wants the best running back who’s been on campus in the last 15 years hanging around and clogging up the backfield for another year?
What good could possibly come out of that?
So it was properly explained to me that the Next Big Thing, Leonard Fournette, is on the way and, best I could gather, young Fournette might get his feelings hurt if there was such an obvious obstacle as Hill standing in his way on the depth chart.
He might even change his mind and — gasp — sign instead with Alabama (where only the NFL-ready T.J. Yeldon and newly unveiled beast Derrick Henry, who have no choice but to stick around in the Tide backfield, would deter him).
Or so went the explanation, followed by “Or maybe Hill saw the handwriting on the wall.”
And what proverbs would that be?
“That Fournette was going to beat him out.”
If that is true, I really want to see this Fournette fellow, once the crate in which they deliver him to LSU is cracked open.
But I’m skeptical.
So just to set the record straight, Hill’s decision should not have affected Fournette one way or the other, nor should Fournette’s looming beasthood have played into Hill’s decision to go get paid for his chores.
But, believe me, if Fournette lives up to the mega-hype — and there’s no reason to believe he won’t, after all, I read it on the Internet — there would have been room for both of them (and, for that matter, Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard will still find odd jobs to fill with the running game).
That’s what LSU has been in recent years. Hill emerged as the clear No. 1 this season, the closest LSU has had to a true featured back in years. It has been more of a full stable, and still was to a degree.
Some would call it an embarrassment of riches. Others have mistakenly called it a deterrent to stardom, and thus an obstacle to future riches.
Actually, it’s a good thing — for everybody involved.
Fournette should have begged for Hill to stay. Hill should have welcomed more company back there.
The more the merrier, at least if a long and obviously prosperous NFL career is their ultimate goal.
It’s no secret that the pros have downgraded the importance of the running back position. The current philosophy is that you can plug just about anybody back there and it won’t matter if you don’t spend the big bucks more wisely up front on offensive linemen.
Look at the Saints, who keep having success with undrafted free agent backs like Pierre Thomas and Khiry Thomas (or, ahem, Chris Ivory) — and have had mixed results at best with spending a No. 1 pick on Mark Ingram.
The NFL looks at running backs as expendable products. Run down to the convenience store and grab one on the way to the game. There’s probably a vending machine for them. Plug another one in and move on. Thanks for playing, son.
Complicating matters, the professional shelf life of a running back is about the same as for a common house gnat.
They come and go — lose a half step and you’re gone. Next!
Which is why those LSU backs with NFL stars in their eyes should be happy to have so much company during their college years.
The career clock is ticking, the wear and tear mounting, even in those formative college seasons.
You can go somewhere and get 40 carries a game, set a slew of records and rack up the honors on numbers alone.
But then you’d be leaving after your junior year and showing up to the NFL, barely shaving, but with a 35-year-old body.
That makes it hard to argue with Hill’s decision, although it was heartwarming that apparently the only thing holding him back was that he wanted to show some appreciation to head coach Les Miles for standing by him through his well-documented legal issues.
Even Miles would likely admit that Hill really had no other choice.
With some of the other six Tigers who will leave with eligibility remaining, maybe not so much so.
That’s 17 early entrants in the last two years for LSU, and perhaps Miles is changing his stance of just blindly wishing everyone well.
It was subtle.
But LSU had a full-blown news conference Tuesday to announce that offensive tackle La’El Collins would be back for his senior season.
Hill, wide receivers Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham (obviously good decisions), defensive tackles Ego Ferguson and Anthony Johnson (curious) and offensive lineman Trai Turner (good luck on that) won’t be back.
None of them had a gala, LSU-sanctioned news conference to announce their departures.
Part of that is that the kids today would just as soon bask in the spotlight of Twitter.
Part of it may be that Miles, even when he’s happy for an obvious choice, doesn’t have to celebrate it to the point sticking around for a senior year almost becomes a stigma for ambitious Tigers.
Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org