Spring Rewind: Running Backs

The face of the running back position at Clemson has changed tremedously in just a short period of time.

First Team: James Davis
Rising sophomore running back James Davis was relatively quiet this spring, but it wasn't because he was content with the success of his freshman season.

In fact, headed towards the start of fall practice, the ACC's Rookie of the Year from 2005 is anything but satisfied, especially with one of the top high school running backs in the country in C.J. Spiller set to enroll at Clemson in July.

Since the end of last season, the former 4-star running back out of Atlanta's Douglass High has added nearly 10 pounds of bulk, now weighing in at impressive 208 pounds.

"That was something big for me this off-season was to get stronger," said Davis. "Right now I'm 208, but I've been up to 210. When we had the mat drills before spring practice- that really helped me get stronger."

Davis is hoping that additional strength helps him avoid some of the injuries that prevented him from making more noise on the national scene a year ago.

After suffering a broken hand on his first carry of the second half in a Thursday night win over N.C. State, it wouldn't be until the season finale (four games later) against South Carolina that he was able to regain his early season form. All Davis did against the Gamecocks was rush 27 times for 145 yards and a touchdown to help lead Clemson to a 13-9 win, its eighth in the last nine tries against its archrival.

This spring, when Davis was given the opportunity, he clearly shown he's ready to pick up where he left off after last season's 879 yards and nine touchdowns. In the last scrimmage held in Death Valley the week before the Orange & White game, Davis led the way with 11 carries for 60 yards and two touchdowns, including a one-yard plunge on the ground and a six-yard reception.

"He's done everything we've asked him to do," Bowden said. "It looks like he's picked up from where he was last year. He's had a good spring."

Davis also spent a good bit of his time learning the new plays being installed by second-year coordinator Rob Spence.

This spring, James Davis continued to practice with a pin inserted into his wrist as a result of last season's injury in the N.C. State game. However the pin was scheduled to be removed earlier this week.
"Yeah we've changed up a couple of things on offense. We were really learning a lot this spring as far as route running, signals and things like that," Davis said. "We all had to learn a lot more and plus we are planning to get everybody on the field this year."

Of course, Davis' main competition for the starting running back position wasn't even on campus during spring ball. Florida native C.J. Spiller, a 5-star running back by Scout.com and one of the top athletes in the country, will challenge Davis for playing time this fall as a true freshman.

"C.J. may be a little more quicker," said Davis when asked to compare himself with the incoming freshman. "I've kind of seen him on film but I haven't seen him in person. But as far as speed and quickness I think he's going to be alright."

Still, with a healthy James Davis, Clemson's offense is a different kind of beast to tame.

A patient runner, Davis allows blocks to be setup in front him before hitting the hole with authority. And considering the Tigers return nine out of their top 10 offensive linemen from a year ago, those holes may be even bigger this year.

Second Team: Reggie Merriweather
It seems like just yesterday that this hard-nosed running back out of North Augusta was leading the Tigers to an upset win over Miami in the Orange Bowl after rushing for over 120 yards and three touchdowns.

However now entering his senior season, Merriweather finds himself in a different sort of role.

No longer considered the go-to back in the Tigers' offense, Reggie Merriweather will be the guy that gets his hands on the ball five to 10 times a game while also serving as a key blocker in passing situations this fall.

He'll also be counted on for his leadership, which is a trait many underclassmen on the team have already come to respect. "When I came to Clemson I've always talked to Reggie," said James Davis. "He's always pushed me. He's been the one telling me the whole time that I'm going to have that shot to do something big at Clemson. We workout together and we both work hard trying to get our speed going and everything."

Even though Merriweather may have a reduced role in this year's offense, he has proven throughout his career that he can be counted on when the team needs him most. He was the workhorse in wins over South Carolina and Miami in 2004. He also rushed for over 700 yards and seven touchdowns last year.

And in 2006, look for some of his opportunities to be come when the Tigers go to the split back set. In fact, Clemson used split backs in goal line situations during spring practice with a good deal of success- converting on four-of-four opportunities during one scrimmage.

"It's been a good personnel grouping that gets both Reggie and James on the field at the same time," said quarterback Will Proctor. "It's working good for us right now."

Tommy Bowden also hopes to take advantage of his team's talent and depth in the backfield this year. "We had a good bit of two-back offense last year with split backs, but it involved (fullbacks) Cliff Harrell and Steven Jackson," Bowden said. "This year, it will involve another tailback-type body. We don't have any fullback-type bodies that we feel comfortable carrying the ball in that position. …

"You could see some two-back offense, but the plan of attack would be different. … The tailback as opposed to the fullback could be more explosive."

Third Team: Demerick Chancellor
Red-shirt freshman Demerick Chancellor completed a strong spring with 12 carries for 43 yards and a touchdown in the Orange & White game. However, with C.J. Spiller set to arrive later this summer, and with Reggie Merriweather and James Davis ahead of him on the depth chart, the question remains: will Demerick Chancellor last as a running back?

Just a year ago, he was playing in the defensive backfield before the coaching staff elected to try him on offense on the scout team last fall.

"He's the one I'm most interested in seeing this spring," running backs coach Burton Burns said at the start of spring practice. "He's a speed guy that was on defense last year. I want to see if he can control his speed and set up his blocks. I'm really looking forward to seeing what he does."

By most accounts, Chancellor performed well in his first action in the spotlight. He rushed for 43 yards and a touchdown in the spring game as mentioned above. He also added 17 carries for 58 yards and two more touchdowns in the scrimmage the weekend before.

Still, with three players ahead of him on the depth chart this fall, including a freshman and a sophomore, he may be better suited to move to another position.

Bowden was asked twice about the possibility of moving Chancellor to another position this spring and on both occasions; he insisted a move was not in the works. "Not right now," he said. "When you look at our depth chart there and the fact that this is Reggie's last year, it's not as deep as you think."

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