Can Perkins Handle the Load?

The preseason brings with it countless questions, and one in particular has been bugging me for a while: Can tailback LaDarius Perkins handle a heavier load than he’s been used to the past two years?

The question within the question is whether he’ll even have to take on significantly more carries, because Nick Griffin is there and a couple of redshirt freshmen could get some carries, too. But Perkins is the starter, and so the natural assumption is that his career average of 7.2 carries per game will go up a good bit.

The reason there are questions about Perkins’ durability is because up ’til now he’s been a change-of-pace back, a guy who can get to the edge or catch screen passes and just go. He has occasionally run between the tackles – and with success – but he hasn’t had to do it on a regular basis over a 12-game regular season. Griffin seems more naturally built for that.

But let’s not underestimate Perkins’ stature. He’s 5-foot-10 (taller than Emmitt Smith) and a very muscular 194 pounds. (He’s listed at 190 but gave us reporters the 194 figure on Tuesday.) As Paul Myerberg of PreSnapRead.com pointed out on my show today (CLICK HERE, fast-forward to the 39-minute mark), Perkins has muscle on top of muscle. He said he weighed about 170 pounds when he first arrived at MSU in 2009.

“I don’t worry about my body wearing down, because coach (Matt) Balis has me in the best shape of my life right now. Being in shape is not an issue at all,” Perkins said.

The most carries Perkins has had in a single game is 18, against UAB on Oct. 23, 2010. Starter Vick Ballard sat out that game with an ankle injury, so Perkins stepped in and rushed for a career-high 131 yards. It’s the only time in his college career he’s hit the 100-yard mark.

He had 10 or more carries only twice last season after hitting double digits five times the previous year, when Perkins and Ballard were battling each other for the starting job. Perkins simply doesn’t have the experience of being an every-down back in college. But everybody starts somewhere, and Perkins is confident he can do whatever is asked of him.

“I feel like I can hit the edge or go inside more,” he said. “I’ve gained more weight now, and I feel like I can take a pounding. It’s just whatever the play-calling is and the game situation is.”

MSU’s coaches obviously feel Perkins can get it done. While the bigger Griffin is a more prototypical every-down back, he’s been unable to overtake the more experienced Perkins.

“Perkins from Day 1 has been at the top, but I’ve seen the other guys – I don’t know that he’s maybe separated (from them), he’s pulled their level of play up,” head coach Dan Mullen said. “So you feel pretty good. I like the way the guy’s been running the football.”

Perkins’ career rushing stats:

• 2010: 101 rushes, 566 yards, 5.6 ypc, 3 TDs

• 2011: 87 rushes, 422 yards, 4.9 ypc, 2 TDs

Totals: 188 rushes, 988 yards, 5.3 ypc, 5 TDs