Fumble pushes Howard

CLEMSON - The memory of last season's fumble at Georgia Tech continues to sit in the back of D.J. Howard's mind.

In place of an injured Andre Ellington, the redshirt freshman was filling in as Clemson's starting running back. Howard caught a third-down dump off pass from Tajh Boyd, but as he fought for a few extra yards, he coughed up the ball before touching the ground.

"That's a bad taste that you don't want," Howard said. "Obviously, it's just a game turning situation. I keep that in the back of my head whenever I'm running the ball or working on my ball security."

Officials initially ruled Howard down, but a replay overturned the call on the field. Georgia Tech was awarded the ball at the Clemson 19-yard line. Six players later, the Yellow Jackets went up 7-3.

The defeat, Clemson's first of the 2011 season, ended with a 31-17 result.

As for the fumble, "It's just a part of growing up."

Ball security has been his primary focus over the last nine months.

"I've been working on that since Georgia Tech, since that incident," Howard said. "Coaches stay on me about it and I stay on me about it. I'm my biggest critic, so I stay on myself mostly about it. Ball security has been my focus all camp, so far. It's gotten a whole lot better."

He added, "I stress that when I'm running the ball. Keep it high and tight."

Running backs coach Tony Elliott has implemented several drills to help all running backs improve their ball security.

One of is called ‘monkey rolls.' That, Howard said, is the toughest one.

"It's like a three-man weave, except you're on the ground going one over the top of the other," Howard said. "We do a lot of ball security in individual drills."

After rushing for 230 yards and a touchdown on 41 carries in 2011, Howard hopes he's able to contribute again this fall.

And while he's listed as Andre Ellington's backup, he still will be depended on more heavily than last year.

In other words, he has to be ready.

"Just whatever the coaches want me to do. If they call my name, I'll come running," he said. "Personally, I want to be the No. 1 back, but Andre, he is the workhorse of the team right now. I just want to secure my spot at No. 2."

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