Editor’s note: This is the third part of a 10-part series looking at the storylines to watch as the Cajuns approach their Aug. 5 report date for preseason practice.
LAFAYETTE — Elijah McGuire has done a little bit of everything in his first two seasons with the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
The question now is can he do it all? Or better yet, will he have to?
In both his freshman and sophomore seasons, McGuire racked up big numbers without getting featured-back carries.
The Cajuns were able to soften up defenses with their 240-pound battering ram named Alonzo Harris before unleashing McGuire. They don’t have that luxury this season, at least not as a proven commodity.
Either way, the Cajuns will have their choice of options if they deem it necessary to limit McGuire’s carries.
Backing up McGuire at running back are a couple established veterans in Torrey Pierce and Effrem Reed, as well as sophomore Darius Hoggins, former cornerback Montrel Carter and true freshman Jordan Wright.
Thought to be a part of the discussion until recently was another freshman, Walter Williams, but Williams was dismissed from the program earlier this week.
None of that group comes close to matching Harris’ towering physique, but there aren’t many 6-foot-1, 240-pound running backs out there. And for the Cajuns purposes, they likely aren’t going to need or want someone to spell McGuire as often this season.
Pierce was listed as the No. 2 running back on the first depth chart released by the Cajuns this spring, and like McGuire, he is a sort of jack-of-all-trades.
He missed a good chunk of last season after suffering a season-ending knee injury in the Cajuns win against Texas State, but he’s shown an ability to be productive when he has been able to steal away carries.
Pierce has gained 490 yards on 99 career carries and has also been reliable as a safety outlet in the passing game, hauling in nine passes in six games a year ago.
Reed is compactly built and has proven to be an adequate backfield blocker on passing downs. But he hasn’t been used much as a runner since picking up a career-high 418 yards and five touchdowns as a freshman.
Like Pierce, Reed is a threat to catch the ball out of the backfield, though he caught a career-low five passes last season while working behind both Harris and McGuire.
It’s likely that either Pierce or Reed, or perhaps a combination of both, will serve as the primary option behind McGuire, but there are intriguing options left.
While Wright has yet to go through his first practice with the team and will need to pick up the playbook before the coaches trust him to be on the field, he was a stud with the ball in his hands at Pearl High School in Mississippi.
The 211-pound Wright ran for more than 3,000 yards and 41 touchdowns as a high school senior, including one game against Bastrop High School in which he ran for 422 with nine scores.
Carter was the Cajuns’ opening-day starter at running back as a freshman in 2012, but he suffered a season-ending injury in that game. He was briefly moved to cornerback last season before returning to running back after Pierce’s injury.
Hoggins is a bit of an unknown. His slight frame (5-foot-7, 176 pounds) is an impediment, but while he may never earn a hefty workload, he was singled out by coaches as having had a nice spring and could figure into the mix when McGuire needs a breather.
The Cajuns know what they have in McGuire; an electric back who can change the game in a number of different ways at the drop of a hat. But they also know it’d be foolish to lean too heavily on him.
Now all they need to find out is the best option behind him, even if it’s a different-looking one than they’ve had in years past.