Once bitten ground game begins to prosper

In the Lions’ first three games of the season their ground game accounted for 85 yards and zero touchdowns. It’s safe to say that the ground game was a no show, but that has changed in recent weeks as the Lions currently sit in first place atop the Southland Conference heading in a head to head clash with Central Arkansas.
Prior to the season head coach Ron Roberts felt like his running back corps was one of his team’s strengths, but he would have never imagined that he would lose three of his senior backs.  
Veterans Sam Fairley and Zeke Jones were projected to be the marquee guys in the ground game, but Fairley was lost for the season after suffering an achilles injury in the last scrimmage of training camp, and Jones is no longer with the team for undisclosed reasons following the game versus Missouri. According to the Hammond Daily Star, sophomore running back/kick returner Jordan Wells was also reportedly let go after informing Roberts he would be transferring after the season.
“We ran into problems there at the running back position,”  said Roberts. “I try not to talk about the kids that get hurt, no disrespect to them, but because your team latches on to it as an excuse.”
The absence of Fairley and Jones, who averaged 3.8 yards and scored 10 touchdowns between the two, opened the door for fellow senior Michael Chaney,  who was heavily featured in the Lion rushing attack through the first five games. Perhaps Chaney’s last game was his best game versus Lamar as he carried the ball 18 times for two scores before leaving the game with a knee injury. MRI results later yielded that Chaney had torn his Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) and he was done for the season.
“Its sad to see because I thought he was really coming into his groove against Lamar,” said Roberts. “He went out positive and he can say he won his last two games and I hope he feels good about what he was able to do here.”
This put Roberts and his staff in a unique situation, trying to find a running back that would emerge as the every down guy five weeks into the season.
Junior running back LaTruan Weary won the hearts of many fans last year, as the walk-on junior averaged 4.2 yards per carry and scored five touchdowns while splitting carries with Fairley after Jones went down. Senior Blaine LeBlanc saw only seven carries last year in one game in his Southeastern career, and has continued as a role player this season, notching 11 carries. However, Roberts looked to a different set of players to improve the running game.
In weeks six and seven, Roberts moved then freshman defensive back Xavier Roberson into the backfield and stripped freshman Rasheed Harrell of his redshirt status to join him.
“Xavier is going to be a good player,” said Roberts. “He’s a freshman, but with Michael down a lot of the burden has fallen on him and Harrell.”
The decision to remove Harrell’s redshirt was a tough one for coach Roberts, but in the end he has confidence it will pay off.
“We were trying to do everything we could to redshirt him, but the way it’s looking right now we are not able to,” said Roberts. “He’s an exciting player with the ball in his hands, and when he touches the ball he has the ability to make some things happen.”
The changes have paid off for the Lions – they have posted 407 rushing yards and six touchdowns in the four weeks.
It looks like for now, the Lions have found their stride, but Roberts wants to see more.
“I still want to see us run the ball more effectively, said Roberts. “We have to get that thing going.”