Up next is a closer look at Clemson's running backs:
The Clemson offense has employed the "RB by committee" philosophy before, but this season could see the Tigers take it to a whole new extreme. I spent some time with Co-Offensive Coordinator and Running Backs Coach Tony Elliott, and he said that he prefers a "committee" approach.
"I like the thought of having a bunch of guys that can do it because it's just a long season and it's hard to keep those guys healthy just because of the nature of the position--they take so many hits."
"One of the things I don't try to do is set in my mind how it's gonna play out," said Elliott. "My job is to have them all ready and let it play out the way it plays out."
Of course, notwithstanding the quality and depth of Clemson's backfield, sophomore Wayne Gallman was able to separate from the rest of the pack toward the end of last season. Consequently, he might get the majority of snaps this season, but the other RBs will get plenty of opportunities to bridge that gap, and the competition should also keep Gallman on his toes.
Gallman showed steady progress last season as a redshirt freshman. His best game by far happened to be the biggest one of the season for Clemson fans--against South Carolina. He recorded 191 yards and a TD in Clemson's reclamation of the rivalry series. It seemed like the light came on for Gallman toward the end of last season, and I expect that he will continue to progress in 2015. He will be the closest thing the Tigers have to an every-down back. The depth and competition behind him should push the redshirt sophomore to new heights this season and beyond.
Brooks was earmarked for the starting RB spot in 2014, but a preseason injury sidelined him for the season. Despite the set-back, the staff is hopeful that he can be the productive, reliable back he was expected to be last season. In fact, the year in the weight room might even add to his ability and improve his durability.
"It was big for him just from a physical standpoint to be able to focus on building his body a little bit," said Elliott. "When we recruited Zac, we knew he was a hybrid guy. We felt like his frame could put on some weight, but he was forced into action as a freshman and didn't have that opportunity to redshirt, so this was his year to work on his body. One, to put on some good, productive weight, but also to put on some weight that could help to protect himself and hopefully cut down the chance of injury."
Brooks played WR in high school, and many Clemson fans remember the brilliant, diving TD catch he made in the 2013 opener win against UGA. Brooks's good hands will afford Elliott the opportunity to use him in different ways and keep defenses guessing. His versatility and experience make Brooks a likely candidate to compete with Gallman for number of touches per game.
Dye came to Clemson as a 4-star RB in 2013, but he was beset by injuries--seemingly from the minute he signed with Clemson. A back surgery sidelined him in 2013, and a torn achilles tendon in February of 2014 forced him to forego the first half of last season. However, toward the end of last season Dye did give Clemson fans a glimpse of his potential. He certainly looks the part of a great back, if you believe in the "eye test," and Elliott said that he's added even more muscle to his physique during the offseason. With both Gallman and Brooks being more elusive than they are powerful, Dye could be the short-yardage sledgehammer the Tigers are looking for.
Dye's 4-star counterpart from the 2014 signing class is sophomore Adam Choice. The cousin of NFL RB Tashard Choice showed tremendous promise in flashes last season. Adam is smaller and slightly quicker than Dye, but despite his diminutive stature, he showed a lot of toughness and ability to fight through tackles when necessary. He often seemed to be able to instinctively bounce off would-be tacklers for a gain when a play seemed destined for a loss. However, Choice's season was cut short when he suffered an ACL tear exactly halfway through the season against BC in mid-October.
Choice has done well with his rehabilitation, but many are contemplating whether a redshirt year might behoove both Choice and the program--given all of the other options at running back.
When asked about the possibility of Adam Choice redshirting this season, Elliott responded, "We're gonna look at it from both angles--what's best for him and what's best for the program--and it's still too early to tell. But every indication is that he's healthy. He's full go, so we're just gonna let it play out."
I honestly have no idea how this will play out. My hunch is that Choice will benefit from a redshirt this season, but it's entirely possible that he could impress so much in camp that the staff's best "choice" is to play him now. With a talent like Tavien Feaster committed to join the team in 2016, the advantages of redshirting Choice could be mitigated enough to make that decision easier for Coach Elliott. I'm sure this dilemma will be an ongoing issue for the staff, but it's definitely an enviable one.
The less famous CJ sometimes gets overlooked because of Clemson's depth at the running back position, but Davidson is a very talented back, and will get his opportunities to distinguish himself in both camp and during the season. The former track star probably has the best top-end speed of the bunch, and he has also proven to be the proud possessor of ample rushing skills. He catches the ball well out of the backfield, and this will give the staff even more options. As we all know, speed kills. Even though Davidson likely won't get a high number of touches per game, he is very capable of ripping off a big play or two each week, and his mere presence on the field should give opposing defenses another threat to worry about. He can be used as a decoy on fake jet sweeps, for example, and could be a dangerous weapon on wheel routes. Once again, Davidson will provide quality depth and competition, which will only make this group improve as a unit.
It will be exciting to follow this group throughout camp as they all compete for reps and playing time. Don't forget that true freshman Ray-Ray McCloud will be entering the fold this season. He will probably be used more as a WR than a RB, but he played RB in high school and could represent a wild card in the Clemson backfield. He will certainly give the offense additional options and versatility, which seems almost incomprehensible at this point. Keep it right here at CUTigers.com for constant updates throughout August camp!
Elliott has weapons to work with
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