Ragin’ Cajuns are both talented and deep at running back

It’s a good problem to have, but Louisiana-Lafayette offensive coordinator Jay Johnson is going to have to get creative distributing the ball this season.

His backfield consists of four players who have either dominated or shown flashes of success with limited playing time, and another who has had a strong camp.

With senior Alonzo Harris, juniors Torrey Pierce and Effrem Reed and sophomores Darius Hoggins and Elijah McGuire, the Cajuns’ running backs might form the deepest and most experienced unit on a deep and experienced team.

“It’s a positive thing, because you’ve got guys with different capabilities that bring different things to the table,” Reed said. “Everyone is a good football player, we just try to take it day-by-day and contribute to the team in any way possible.”

How deep is the Cajuns’ corps of backs? Montrel Carter, the 2012 opening day starter who averaged six yards per carry last season, now plays cornerback. It’s deep enough to have two of its members nominated as preseason All Sun Belt Conference players — on the first team.

Those two players, Harris and McGuire, would be more than enough for most teams.

Harris is the complete package coming out of the bacfkield. He’s a physical back that has shown himself capable of carrying the workload, with 532 carries in his first three seasons.

Ragin’ Cajuns coach Mark Hudspeth sounded like a baseball coach when bringing up McGuire’s skill set, calling him the Cajuns’ change-up. While McGuire is certainly a change of pace from the bruising Harris, he might be more of a fastball, or worse, a slider that looks like a fastball when it leaves the hand.

“We’ve got so many plays that we designed for Eli so he gets touches in different ways,” Hudspeth said.

He has arguably the best straight-line speed of anybody in the Cajuns’ backfield. But it’s his combination of speed and agility that allowed him to average better than eight yards a carry last season.

“Elijah is a terrific football player,” Harris said. “He can go 0-to-100 from any point on the football field. You think you have him wrapped up and the next thing you know you see him squirt out and head down the sideline.”

But the Cajuns have options behind their dynamic duo, too.

Reed utilized his pass-blocking and receiving ability last season to become the Cajuns’ top third down back, though he’ll have to fight off Hoggins, who has turned heads in the fall camp, to reclaim that role this season.

“Effrem is probably a little ahead on the third-down package, but Hoggins has come in and shown he can be an effective runner just in an overall offensive scheme,” Hudspeth said. “I’m glad to see (Hoggins) step up.”

Reed and Harris both arrived as part of Hudspeth’s first class of freshmen in 2011, but Reed redshirted as Harris went on to have the best season by a Cajuns running back since Tyrell Fenroy. While Reed hasn’t enjoyed Harris’ level of on-field success, he’s used that time to become intimately familiar with the Cajuns offense.

“Effrem Reed probably knows the offense better than anybody in our room,” Harris said. “He’s a step behind Terrance Broadway, but he’s the smartest in our room.”

Pierce has impressed in his two seasons on campus despite limited touches, with five touchdowns and a career 5.1 yard per carry average.

At 5-foot-9, 170 pounds, he isn’t built to consistently carry the load, but that doesn’t mean he won’t get on the field.

“If you can look past his frame, he’s one of the most effective runners we’ve got,” Hudspeth said. “That joker gives you everything he has. I wish we had more Torrey Pierces. He’ll play and help our team this year, I’ve even got him on special teams.”

Pierce might want to take the special teams assignment and run with it. Carries are going to be hard to come by on this year’s Cajuns team.