New look ground attack

SENECA, S.C. - Clemson's running game underwent a facelift over the summer after learning some of the ins and outs of the Nevada pistol.

In addition to the trip to Nevada, Chad Morris made visited Oklahoma State to pick up a few new wrinkles for the Tigers' hurry-up, no-huddle offense.

During the visit to Oklahoma State, Clemson studied how the Cowboys featured Justin Blackmon in the passing game.

At Nevada, the Clemson coaches got an inside look at the Wolfpack's pistol offense, to help beef up the running game.

Tony Elliott met with the media last month at the Dabo Swinney media golf outing to discuss the Tigers' new look running game and the backs who will be featured in it.

Here's what Elliott had to say:

On protecting the ball…
Elliott: We're going to do more drills in camp, working those guys, going to the ground and fighting to keep those shoulders square, counterbalancing the pressure of the defender pulling the ball away -- doing some more stuff, regaining our balance. Just putting them in position to not they're not normally [in]. It's tough. One thing you don't want to do with those guys is beat them up in drill work. You've got to think outside the box and try to recreate those body positions and different sensations that they'll feel in the course of the game, without putting them in contact situations. I went out and got a few more drills that I'm implementing with those guys. You look at [Mike] Bellamy. Obviously Bellamy put the ball on the ground four times. If you look at it, two of those were situations where he reverted back to high school -- where he had the ball. The other two were just situations where he got hit on the ball by a college defender and he was 178 pounds. It was just hard for him to hold onto the ball.

Andre's durability has been questioned the last couple of years…Do you have any questions or concerns about that going into this year?
"I think [Ellington] knows, 'This is my last go-round. I've decided to come back. I know the specific reasons why I decided to come back for my senior year...'"

Elliott: I don't. A lot of it is -- I think he's really turned that corner, from a mental toughness and a maturity standpoint. I think he knows, 'This is my last go-round. I've decided to come back. I know the specific reasons why I decided to come back for my senior year. I understand the expectations and responsibilities that I have as a senior, as a leader, and as a starting tailback.' I think, mentally, he's prepared. The biggest thing with him, he's continued to prepare every day. Now, I do have to be smart, and make sure that I'm smart in the amount of reps that I give him in camp, and make sure that he's prepared and ready to play. At the same time, I'm not putting any unneeded punishment on that body. He's going to get a lot of punishment and pain throughout the course of the season.

Talk about your experience at Nevada and Oklahoma State.
Elliott: When we went to Nevada, we were looking for some specific things. They were the originators of the pistol offense. What we did last year was kind of copycat. We see it, study it on film and try to implement it. When you go out and visit those guys, you understand the intricate details that really helped us, from a pistol standpoint. You get to say, these are their depths, their steps, these are their aiming points. You start with those specific things. As you get in there…in the course of that process, you start to share ideas. Things that you were looking for, you get. But then you also get some nuggets that you weren't anticipating or expecting. That was a tremendous visit, going out to Nevada and visiting with those guys. They really opened to us. We opened up to them. We developed a relationship that's going to go forward, that's going to continue to help us. When we went to Oklahoma State, we were looking for some specific throwing game things that fit. When you go and look at somebody else's offense, their offense all ties together for them. We were trying to pick out some nuggets to implement that were easy to install within our offense, and make sense. Then, also compliment what we're doing.

Elliott sees plenty of upside in the 6-foot-1, 189-pound Brooks.
What did you see in the spring from Zac Brooks that you wanted him to work on this summer?
Elliott: The big thing with Zac -- the first couple of practices, you have a progression of your install. You kind of start out from ground zero and work your way up. When we started, he was on those first couple of floors and looked great. It was easy to him. As you add the complexity to the offense, he started to slow down a little bit. The biggest thing I wanted to see from him was, use this summer in the skills and drills they do with the guys, to really prepare yourself with the entire offense. From a physical standpoint, understanding aiming points and how important it is to be on track, where you're supposed to be. Make sure you work on your footwork, because footwork was something that was new to him as well, just like pass protection. Footwork and then pad level -- obviously being a 6-foot-1 guy, he's got to learn to get low and run behind his pads.

What are some of the unique things he brings to the position, given what he could do as wide receiver?
Elliott: He has that skill set, if we go into any empty sets, then he's a true, viable option as a receiver. Also, catching the ball out of the backfield -- that's the one thing that we knew he could do. That's the one thing you saw. [You're] like, OK. That's his niche. He can really catch the ball out of the backfield. He'll continue to grow in other areas as he gets experience. He spent so much time playing running back and receiver, probably more running back than receiver. He's bought in. He wants to be a running back. We want him to be a running back. And he's going to be a good one.

Ideally, you guys would like to redshirt him, right?
Elliott: You would like to, just because of the position. It's one of the toughest positions to transition to, to be an every down and effective player. Obviously, you saw how we used Bellamy in certain situations. Having the expectations that a guy is going to come in as a freshman and be able to understand all the run schemes, to be able to understand all the responsibilities from a pass route perspective, and also, all of his blocking responsibilities. That's tough on a young man. If you look at high school ball, they either put their best player at quarterback or running back. That means you're either going to get him the ball or he's going to be out on a route. A lot of those guys, they have a small understanding of pass protection. When you get to this level, and you're on third-down, North Carolina's brining more than you can block, it's tough. Top Stories