Tommie Robinson mingled among the Texans. A handshake here. A group photo there.
With every LSU fan in the Houston sports bar on the LSU Coaches Caravan stop Monday evening, Robinson received a common question:
How're those new running backs looking, Coach?
Seems like an annual question at LSU, especially when Robinson and the Tigers coaching staff have just brought in ESPN's top running back of the 2019 class, John Emery of Destrehan High, and another top 10 back in Tyrion Davis-Price from Southern Lab.
The two freshmen arrived in Baton Rouge this past weekend, bolstering a talented running back room that has five players, led by Clyde Edwards-Helaire (658 yards rushing, seven touchdowns in 2018) that could legitimately play in 2019.
Robinson is tasked with managing that running back room, and in a 15-minute interview with The Advocate on Monday, he talked about how all those carries are going to be split among the players.
"The SEC is a long season," said Robinson, who is entering the final season of a three-year deal that pays him $600,000 in 2019. "It's a rough and rugged conference, this league we play in. We won't be able to get through this league with one or two backs."
Robinson is one of three LSU football assistant coaches that recruits the Houston area. Defensive line coach Dennis Johnson handles the north third of the city, special teams coach Greg McMahon covers the southwest third, and Robinson recruits the southeast.
That means Robinson would be the point man for the nation's No. 1 overall recruit, North Shore High running back Zachary Evans, a 5-foot-11, 200-pound member of the 2020 class who listed LSU within his top 5 schools on May 28.
Robinson said he loves a roster where there's competition at every position, and he's "excited about the direction" the offense is going with the running backs he has.
New guys coming in the past weekend, what’s the running back group, what are their impressions?
I actually haven’t seen them yet. They came in Saturday, and we had camp going on. They had some administrative stuff, but I haven’t actually seen them work live. It was exciting to have them there, knowing we’ve gotten all the paperwork done, everything is good and kids are ready to go.”
With John Emery and Tyrion Davis-Price not enrolling early, how did y’all communicate in the spring leading up to them coming in?
Communicated a lot with them. We did everything that the NCAA would allow us to do in terms of communicating with them. Trying to get them acclimated into our system and everything. They’ll come see drills. One day, we allowed them to come up to the office. They came up, watched film with them, the whole deal. In our day and time, because of a lot of technology, you can communicate a lot with them. But there are some restrictions that the NCAA gives you. We did everything we could in staying in compliance, if you will.
Did the running backs take on their own workout routines while on their own?
We send them a workout routine. Every kid gets their workout routine. If they follow that workout routine to the T, they’d be a lot better off. They all get their own. Some kids stick to it. Some say, “You know, I’m used to this: What we’ve been doing in high school.” But we send them a workout. We talk to them and say, “Hey, did you get your workout in?” They say, “Yeah, coach, I did it.” But right now, though, it’s game time now. So they’re going to get into our system now. Our workout with coach (Tommy) Moffitt, our strength coach. We’re going to get these kids going and ready to play.
Saw that you got to mingle with some fans around here. Is the biggest question you’re getting is how all these running backs are going to get their time?
The biggest question is … They want to talk about the two freshmen (John Emery and Tyrion Davis-Price) because they were both highly touted running backs coming out of high school in the country. We had to do some jumping through the hoops with Emery. We were very, very fortunate that we had two of the best running backs in the country in the state of Louisiana and we were able to get them both. We were very fortunate. We’re happy. I’m happy. We’re all good coaches, but good players make you better coaches. Having those guys along with the guys we have already gives us a really good room. I’m excited about the room. I’m excited about the opportunity we’re going to have. I’m excited about the direction we’re going with this offense and with these backs.
With Nick Brossette leaving for the NFL, is Clyde Edwards-Helaire the guy going into the fall?
We were in the spring with Clyde being the first guy. But there’s still some questions we have to answer. So, we have Clyde. We have Lanard Fournette. And we have Chris Curry. Veteran guys. Clyde and Lanard are older guys. Seniors and juniors, and Chris Curry is going to be a redshirt freshman and we’ve got two incoming freshmen. So, we’ve got some mixture in the room. We’ve got some veterans with some experience. We’ve got some young guys that are very, very talented that will go in and compete. We love competition. Competition makes us all better.
You said you’ve got some unanswered questions. What questions have to get answered?
Well, we’ve got, like I said, Clyde, Lanard and Chris that were there with us this spring. They all got some injuries and missed a couple days here and there. We didn’t get a full feel for what we have. I have more of an idea with Clyde more than anything, because Clyde played quality reps last year in the SEC and had games where he rushed for over 100 yards plus. I think he had maybe 134 yards against Georgia. (Note: Edwards-Helaire rushed for 145 yards on 19 carries against Georgia). That’s a good thing. We’ve got to have more than one back. We’ve got to answer those questions. Who’s going to be our best protector? Who’s our best route runner? Who’s going to be the most stable back? Those kinds of questions. The SEC is a long season. It’s a rough and rugged conference, this league we play in. We won’t be able to get through this league with one or two backs. We’re going to have to have at least three backs that’s going to carry us through this league. We’ve got to have at least three. We’ve got to answer those questions and find out who are going to be those three or four backs or whatever that’s going to carry us. But we have options now, so that’s a good thing.
Are those the kind of questions that may even go into the early games of the season?
It could. It could possibly. So, with the NCAA now, the new (redshirt) rule in the NCAA, you can play kids up to four games and possibly get all those questions answered and say, well he’s not quite ready or whatever, and you can still redshirt that guy and not allow him to lose a year. If there’s an injury with a kid, you can redshirt him and not lose that year. We’ll still have time to answer questions even when the season starts.
Does it help to have a top game like Texas in Week 2 for Emery and Davis-Price to get a chance to prove themselves?
It’s good to have a tough opponent that early in the season to answer a lot of questions. We’ll put them in a lot of game-type situations during camp. Coach Orgeron does a great job of creating those situations and creating game-like situations in practice and creating that type of atmosphere. There’s still nothing like the actual game, when there’s 103,000 people in the stands. And there’ll probably be about 103,000 up there in Austin. Same difference. But it’s always good to be in that environment and play a game in a very meaningful situation. But we’re excited about it. I’ve ben excited about that room. We’re going to have five guys and we’ll have some young guys that’ll come in that will make major, major contributions to the team. That will help this team grow and go where we need to go.
You spent part of your career at Texas. (Note: Robinson was the running backs coach at Texas from 2014-2015). What does that game mean to you?
It’s going to be the next game on the schedule, as we all know. I can’t tell you right now what my emotions will be. I haven’t been back to Austin since I left. I haven’t been back to Austin. Definitely haven’t been back on that campus since I left. I don’t know what the emotion will be, but I know where my focus will be. My focus will be on winning the game for the LSU Tigers. Yes, there are kids on that team that I recruited. There are kids on that team that were recruited when I was there. Am I familiar with them? Sure I am. But when that referee blows that whistle to kick that ball off, it’s all LSU. Everything about it is LSU. But it’ll be fun. It’ll be fun going back, seeing some of the people—I spent two years there—that I worked with in academics and administrators, trainers and equipment managers. They don’t have any of the coaches that were there. There’s still some people there, and kids there, that I actually recruited.
You spent your time with (former Texas coach Charlie Strong) there. What is the view of the program now for you guys, seeing where they’re at?
I actually left before Coach Strong’s last year. I thought that Coach Strong had the program going in the right direction. I was very encouraged with the direction that he was going in. I knew the task at hand when we went in. A lot of people don’t know what was going over there. But I knew what was going on, and I thought if they had given him a little more time, he had it going in the right direction. Everything happens for the reason. I guess that’s how it was supposed to be.
Last time we saw Chris Curry, he was running people over in the spring game. What’s Curry’s update at this point?
Well, he wasn’t healthy that day. He was about 50 percent. He had a big quad contusion. He was about 50 percent. I’m encouraged by him, the work that he’s put in, and the growth that he’s had over the last year. Came in really raw. Real talented kid, hard worker, but was really raw. But he’s developing now into an NCAA, SEC running back. I’m encouraged by him. Looking forward to seeing him compete, too. Like Coach O always says, we’re going to put 11 guys on the field and we’re going to fight like Tigers. Whoever that is remains to be seen. The competition will be big and it’ll be fun, because now we’ve got some guys. I can’t wait.