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January 23, 2006

Instant Analysis: Keiland comes home

Running back Keiland Williams is coming home and the LSU coaching staff has to be ecstatic. The former Lafayette (La.) Northside star committed to Les Miles Monday morning, giving LSU one of the top running back classes in the country and a tailback who is physically and mentally mature enough to step in and make an immediate impact.

Williams joins running backs Charles Scott and Richard Murphy in LSU's 2006 class but he's a step above both at this stage for different reasons. Scott is an impressive running back at the high school level but lacks great speed and could be better utilized as a linebacker, especially with his uncanny blitzing ability. Murphy is a different kind of back and not as physical as Williams. He's a slasher who relies upon quickness and elusiveness to make plays in the run and pass game, but might not be an every down back in the SEC. If you take the physical nature or Scott and the quickness of Murphy, you get Keiland Williams.

That's not to say Williams is an 8-star player. While Williams played last season at Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Va. and became the first running back to rush for more than 1,000 yards for the program, there is still much to work on, but the overall package is beyond impressive.

The maturity gained by being around players a grade ahead of Williams will be noticeable upon his arrival. The military lifestyle has helped with learning how to prepare for many things on and off the field and playing against college-age players will make his transition smoother than that of Scott or Murphy. And then there are the physical skills.

Williams is the same size as Scott on paper, but he's stronger and much more explosive. He has that extra gear rarely found in a 215-pound back. Williams has the speed to bounce things outside and outrun defenders and he's a threat from anywhere on the field. He also has the strength to grind out tough yardage and is difficult to solo tackle. Big, strong and fast -- the three things a running back usually needs to excel in the SEC.

So if Williams, in my opinion, is better and more college ready than Scott and Murphy, will he challenge for playing time as a true freshman? This is the tricky part.

It's not as if LSU is hurting at the running back position if everyone comes back healthy. Alley Broussard is an excellent runner when healthy but his knee injury last August makes his status somewhat unknown. He'll miss the Spring but is expected to be back for the season and is the probably starter. Justin Vincent has all the talent in the world but he's never developed into the star most expected following his amazing freshman season. His status for next season is also questionable due to his knee injury in the Peach Bowl. Vincent, like Broussard, will miss Spring practice. R.J. Jackson is a player the coaches are high on, but he lacks experience. Redshirt freshman Antonio Robinson will play running back in the Spring as bodies are needed.

If Broussard can come back healthy and be effective, LSU might be able to redshirt Williams despite the injury to Vincent. However, I just can't see Williams sitting out the season. There are too many question marks at running back and Miles will play the best players regardless of seniority as the Tigers gear up for a run at the national title. In fact, Williams might not be the only true freshman to see playing time next season.

For the long haul, Williams could be something special if he stays healthy. He still needs to be more patient and learn the little things about being a college back, but his skill level, physical attributes and work ethic all point to a great college career and an NFL future.



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