Burns: Running Game Changing

CLEMSON – Clemson running backs coach Burton Burns beleives the lessons gained from the team's ground game finishing 100th out of 117 Division I teams last season could help this year's rushing attack resemble the glory days, especially since there's a new offense in place. <br>

"Last year didn't pan out like we had planned it," he said. "But you hope that you learned something from it all. We went into last season looking to run the ball and it all went down the drain. Hopefully our three running backs learned something from it."

With spring practice slated to start March 11, the running game enters as a major question mark, despite the fact that rising junior Reggie Merriweather rushed for 11 touchdowns, 670 yards and averaged 4.9 yards per carry in 2004.

One of the big questions is who's the top tailback, Merriweather or Duane Coleman, who entered last season as the team's top back, but broke his foot prior to the start of the season and was never the same.

"Hands down, Reggie is going to be the starter," Burns said. "I don't think Duane really ever fully recovered from his injury. We're going into the spring as the exact opposite from last year."

Another aspect of concern for fans is whether or not the backs will see more carries than they did last year, which was a very low 271 times.

"The challenge to the running backs this year is that they will be called on and how they go is how we go," Burns said. "The new offense is going to take a lot of pressure off of (quarterback) Charlie Whitehurst. It's one of those deals where the backs have to put up or shut up. They won't be able to complain about not getting the ball this year."

Duane Coleman will be in the mix again, but he enters spring practice as Reggie Merriweather's back up.
The new offense will see Whitehurst lineup most of the time under the center, which will allow him to either hand it off or use a play-action pass.

Also, the offense will feature two backs, split backs, single backs and an empty backfield.

"The major difference is that we're going to be a north-south running team," Burns said. "The quarterback will be under the center the majority of the time. And if you look at the guys we got, they've always done well with the quarterback under the center."

But before the Tigers open the 2005 season against Texas A&M, they have to find a No. 1 running back and not have a running back by committee.

"We'd like for one guy to be our go-to guy," Burns said. "That's something that we got away from the last couple of years. We haven't had a consistent starter since Travis Zachary.

"Our priorities changed because this was a playmaker's offense and our playmakers were receivers and we went to them. And the negative side of that is we got away from the running game."

And there's always a chance that the "go-to" back isn't even on campus yet. Star recruit James Davis enters the mix in August.

"James Davis will get plenty of reps early in camp to see where he's at," Burns said. "We want to find out real fast where he's at. He will get a legitimate shot."

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