Clemson backfield crowded, talented

Whenever a Clemson coach discusses the situation at running back entering the 2014 season, there always seems to be a sense something special is about to happen.

And it's hard to figure out exactly why.

After all, the Tigers have lost their top two rushers in each of the last two seasons in Andre Ellington and Roderick McDowell. Ellington was one of the top rookies in the NFL last year and McDowell rushed for over 1,000 yards in his senior campaign.

With Tajh Boyd now out of the mix, Clemson's running game has taken another hit too.

So why all the optimism?

Well, surprisingly, it starts with depth.

"This is by far, as deep as we've been at running back since I've been here," Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris tells CUTigers. "By far. Our core is as deep and as skilled as I've ever had. We've got depth and that's something we haven't had."

Morris has always wanted to this offense to be more physical, and we've seen that in flashes in his first three seasons. This year might be the first of his tenure, however, where the true "smash-mouth spread" he's longed for, finally emerges.

Entering preseason camp, senior D.J. Howard is the starter, but he'll be challenged by a host of other talented backs.

Redshirt freshman Tyshon Dye, a former four-star back out of Ellberton County, Ga. isn't 100 percent yet, but he's getting close and Morris says he could have started last year if it weren't for a back injury.

"Tyshon Dye would have played a bunch last year if he hadn't been hurt," he said. "There's no doubt. And he gives us more power back there when he's healthy so we are excited to see what he can do.

Running backs coach Tony Elliott says Dye is ahead of schedule in the recovery process after tearing his Achilles before spring practice began.

"They say he's a young man that heals quickly. I think he'll be 100 percent by mid-season but he's going to be in camp and he's out running and jogging and we'll exactly where he is when camp starts. We have high expectations for him but we have to see where he's at mentally and physically in August and then go from there."

Outside of Howard and Dye, you have Zac Brooks, a former elite receiver in high school, Wayne Gallman, who truly showed out in spring and former track star C.J. Davidson.

"You've got Zac Brooks, and you've got Wayne Gallman, who is as violent a runner as I've ever been around. Brooks made a number of big plays for last year - including that touchdown against Georgia," Morris said.

There's also freshman running back Adam Choice. While Choice was somewhat under the radar in the recruiting process, he arrives in Tigertown with high expectations.

"Never be scare of who is on the roster- that's what I tell the young guys," Elliot said. "The big thing with Choice - from what I've seen from him, is that he's the complete package. He's already 210 pounds. He can run between the tackles and take it the distance with the home run. He's a guy that can compete, but how quickly can he pick it up? And is he completely healthy?

"He had shoulder surgery and didn't play baseball last spring, and he's a heckuva baseball player so it's been a while since he put on the pads. But from what I hear, he's the complete package and he looks pretty healthy. So we'll see."

Bigger picture, given the losses of Sammy Watkins, Boyd, Martavis Bryant and a host of others, Clemson figures to emphasize the running game more than ever before this season.

Morris says that's one of the biggest benefits to this offense - its never stuck in one particular style.

It adjusts to the skill set of its top playmakers.

"When you look at what do offensively, one of the best things that we do is adapt to what we have. Do we want to run the football more? Absolutely we do," Morris said.

"But let me tell you this funny story... at one of our alumni functions this summer and this guy kept drilling me- are we going to run the ball more? Are we going to run the ball more? Are we going to run the ball more coach?

"And finally I stopped him and said, 'sir, with all due respect, if we ran the ball more last year and didn't get the ball to Sammy Watkins, you'd be asking me right now: how come you didn't get the ball to Sammy Watkins more? How come you didn't throw it more to Sammy Watkins?' So we adapt."

What most fans don't realize it won't simply come down to who makes the most number of big plays during preseason camp in the backfield.

It's also which back holds up in pass protection the best? Which back doesn't fumble? And also, which back understands all of the checks at the line of scrimmage?

The answers to those questions will go just as far in determining who starts August 30 at Georgia.

CUTigers.com Top Stories