LSU fullbacks embrace contact, expanding role

Fullbacks embrace contact, expanding role in LSU offense

“The fullbacks have expanded their role. ... They’re going to be asked to do the same things: isolate the mike linebackers and be able to block like they always have been. But they’re going to have to catch a lot more out of the backfield this year.” CONNOR NEIGHBORS LSU fullback

J.C. Copeland wants to hit something.

Hard.

“I embrace contact,” Copeland said, a smile filling the valley between the bushy mountains of his beard. “It’s something I can release my tension and anger into.”

There is little doubt the LSU offense under new coordinator Cam Cameron will maintain its reputation for relying on a power running game.

But for fullbacks like Copeland and his backup, fellow senior Connor Neighbors, along with the smash there will be grab in 2013.

“Cam loves his fullbacks,” Copeland explained. “But in this offense, if you can’t catch, you can’t play.

“We’re still LSU at the end of the day. We still hit people in the mouth. But we’ve been catching a lot more passes this year.”

The year starts Saturday for Copeland and the No. 12-ranked Tigers against No. 20 TCU in the Cowboys Classic. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. on ESPN at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

Cameron recorded a memorable 42-yard catch-and-run in last year’s game against Alabama, rumbling as LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger described him like “a big meatball” up the west sideline.

The catch was one of three for Copeland in 2012. There could be a lot more to come for the fullbacks this season.

“The fullbacks have expanded their role,” said Neighbors (5-foot-11, 239 pounds). “In the spring game, you saw us at wide out. That’s just a glimpse of what we can do.”

“They’re going to be asked to do the same things: isolate on the mike (middle) linebackers and be able to block like they always have been,” Mettenberger said.

“But they’re going to have to catch a lot more out of the backfield this year.”

With the potential for a more active fullbacks corps has come the need for more players in the ranks, especially with Copeland and Neighbors in their final year of eligibility.

LSU coach Les Miles promised a significant amount of experimentation in fall practice.

The byproduct of that was the switch of Melvin Jones (6-3, 245), a true freshman from Washington-Marion in Lake Charles, from linebacker to fullback.

Jones’ father, Troy, was a running back and kick returner at Texas A&M and McNeese State in the 1980s.

“He’s coming along,” said Copeland, who himself made the conversion from defensive lineman to fullback early in his LSU career. “I can relate to what he’s going through. As a freshman, he doesn’t always understand what’s going on, but gradually he’s getting it. He has time.”

Listed at 6-1, 270, Copeland said last week he’s weighing in at 267 now and hopes to stay in that battering ram weight range the entire season.

“I want to try to get down to about 265,” he said. “If I miss a meal, I’d be 265. I don’t want to get above 275.”

Though he lamented the fact his position is becoming more marginalized in the NFL, Copeland is eager to show fullbacks are even more vital as ever as part of LSU’s offense.

“I love it,” he said. “It’s a way to show the NFL the fullback is not dead. We’re still here doing our thing.”

And, apparently, more things than ever before.