Before Derek Dooley got the axe at Tennessee, one of his favorite lines was talking about J.C. Copeland. Dooley would say, “LSU has so many players, they’ve got a guy at fullback we would’ve killed for on the defensive line.” Fullback isn’t a sexy spot, but it’s pretty important in the Les Miles offense. LSU has a really nice stable of running backs, but they’ll tell you these guys make them look good. It’s not a deep position, but it’s a strong one.
The Departed: Stephen Scardina- Transfer
They’re Back: J.C. Copeland (6’1”, 272, Sr.); Connor Neighbors (5’11”, 236, Sr.)
Who’s New: None
What We Know: I’m not sure how J.C. Copeland felt when the staff told him he’d be moving to fullback a few years ago, but it’s been a fantastic move for all parties. It’s an incredibly tired cliché’, but it’s so true. He’s a bowling ball. When Copeland gets going, he doesn’t stop. I’ve never seen him lose a big cat drill in practice, and you rarely see him miss a block on Saturdays. And they’ve gotten comfortable giving him the football. Last year Copeland scored four touchdowns, all one-yard plunges. He caught three balls for 54 yards, none more impressive than the 42-yard catch and run against Alabama. Copeland has some athleticism to him which means teams at least have to account for him on passing downs. His primary role will always be lead blocker, but he can be useful in other areas for sure.
Neighbors is a great story. His father and grandfather played for the Crimson Tide, but Neighbors wanted to be a Tiger. He’s dressed out for three seasons at LSU, and he made an impact last year as a fullback. He played in all 13 games and got one carry for five yards. Neighbors is a physical kid who is routinely called upon to compete in the big cat drill. He mixes it up in there and it translates to the field. Neighbors isn’t a great athlete, but he’s strong and maintains a low center of gravity.
What To Expect: Copeland will be a key piece to the LSU offense this season. His lead blocking is vital to the Tiger ground attack, and they’ll give him a bone once and awhile on a short yardage situation. As much good as he can do, Copeland has a tendency to pick up dumb penalties after the whistle. As a senior, those have to stop. Flattening a guy to spring a 15 yard gain is great, but it does you no good if the result is 1st and 25. Watch for Copeland around the goal line where he’ll inevitably score a touchdown or two. I don’t sense that he’ll catch a lot more than three or four balls, but he’s an option there if nothing else opens up. In his final season in Baton Rouge, Copeland will be a really nice cog in the Tiger offense.
Rarely do walk ons make a huge impact, but Neighbors certainly plays his part. When Copeland needs a break, Neighbors can step in and pop someone at the point of attack. He won’t get more than a carry or two, and he certainly won’t be called upon to make a catch. He’s a blocking back, and he’s pretty good at it. The trick will be to find another Connor Neighbors after this season as the only two guys with any experience will be gone after the 2013 season.