Post Spring Insider: Running backs

CLEMSON — Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney decided long before the start of spring practice that running back C.J. Spiller was going to have an easy spring.

Though he practiced, Spiller did not participate in any contact drills as Swinney instead elected to give all the work to his two young running backs in Jamie Harper and Andre Ellington, while also allowing the elder statesman in Rendrick Taylor to grab hold of his role as the Tigers' new short yardage back.

As a result Harper, Ellington and Taylor had a very productive spring as Swinney and running backs coach Andre Powell discovered the Clemson backfield is just as deep and maybe even a little deeper than what was seen inside of Death Valley just one year ago.

C.J. Spiller (5-foot-11, 195, senior, Lake Butler, Fla.)

C.J. Spiller has 2,335 career rushing yards, most among active ACC players, and with 917 receiving yards, which is second among running backs in school history. (Roy Philpott/CUTigers.com)

About: Given he was tabbed as a possible first-round draft choice and given the fact Clemson still has questions on the offensive line, no one thought C.J. Spiller would be in a Clemson uniform fpr his senior season. But Spiller obviously sees something the rest of us don't and will return in 2009. The Heisman Trophy candidate already owns a school record 4,908 yards as both a runner, a receiver and as a returner. The former five-star standout from Lake Butler, Fla. has to be considered one of the most explosive players in the country.

The positives: Spiller can score from just about anywhere on the field. He already owns the school record for touchdowns longer than 50 yards (12) with seven of those going for at least 80 or more yards. He has 2,335 career rushing yards, most among active ACC players, and 917 receiving yards, which is second among running backs in school history. A natural athlete, Spiller can do just about anything and is the most explosive player in the ACC when he touches the ball.

The negatives: His pass blocking skills can still use some work as he sometimes has issues picking up blitzes. Though he improved greatly in this area last year, there are still some questions about him as a north–south runner. Some still think he is that guy trying to always make the first player miss.

Jamie Harper (5-foot-11, 224, sophomore, Jacksonville, Fla.)

Harper's best performance of the spring came in the Orange and White game as he carried the ball 21 times for 83 yards. (Kevin Bray/CUTigers.com)

About: Lost 14 pounds before the start of spring practice. Looked really good at times during the spring. Was healthy, was slim, and seemed alert. His best performance of the spring came in the Orange and White game as he carried the ball 21 times for 83 yards.

The positives: Has very good feet, which is impressive for a running back of his size. Also has good vision to the hole and good cutback vision. Runs down hill and always tries to push the pile forward. Showed off his good feet in the first scrimmage of the spring when he juked safety Sadat Chambers out of his shoes to complete a 25-yard touchdown. Has good speed and shows the rare capability if being both a power and a slashing running back. He is also a very good blocker in passing situations.

The negatives: Fumbled the ball a couple of times this spring and doesn't have very good hands. Sometimes he doesn't trust his vision and gives up on a play and tries to bounce it outside where there is nothing. There are still questions about his durability after injuries caused him to be ineffective at times last season.

Andre Ellington (5-foot-10, 180, redshirt freshman, Moncks Corner, S.C.)

Like Spiller, Andre Ellington has that explosiveness and elusiveness to take every touch of the ball to the end zone. (Kevin Bray/CUTigers.com)

About: Ellington benefited the most from Spiller's absence this spring. The scat back basically fell into Spiller's role and performed well throughout each practice. Swinney called him a "second Spiller" and said for the first time in the four years Spiller has been there, they can actually take him off the field and still have that big-play potential in the backfield. Look for Swinney and offensive coordinator Billy Napier to find different ways to have Ellington, Spiller, Jacoby Ford and Marquan Jones on the field at the same time as often as they can.

The positives: Like Spiller, Ellington has that explosiveness and elusiveness to take every touch of the ball to the end zone. He displayed that kind of ability several times this spring, including one play in the first scrimmage when he hit the hole, made a defensive player miss at the line of scrimmage, spun around and then went 25 yards for touchdown. Like Spiller, he also has very soft hands evident by his 19-yard touchdown reception from Michael Wade in the Orange and White game. He also shows a lot of toughness for a player his size.

The negatives: Needs to get stronger. Though he is just an inch shorter than Spiller, he is giving up more than15 pounds. He also needs to improve on his pass blocking and learn to trust his offensive linemen a little more and show some patience. Sometimes, he doesn't wait for a block to develop.

Rendrick Taylor (6-2, 260, redshirt senior, Clio, S.C.)


A jack of all trades, Rendrick Taylor will try to master that role this fall when he will spend time as a U-back (fullback / tight end / receiver) and as an S-back (short yardage running back). (Kevin Bray/CUTigers.com)

About: A jack of all trades, Rendrick Taylor will try to master that role this fall when he will spend time as a U-back (fullback / tight end / receiver) and as an S-back (short yardage running back). The former wide receiver, who has 46 career catches for 480 yards, made huge strides this spring as a short yardage back.

The positives: Taylor provides Clemson with a big body in short yardage and goal line situations, but he also can be used in so many different ways which should keep defenses guessing. This spring he was used as the tailback, the fullback, as a fullback that goes in motion, as a slot receiver and as a tight end. He has very good hands and is probably stronger than most linebackers and safeties.

The negatives: Can he stay healthy? He broke his wrist during the fourth game of his freshman season, and that was the beginning of a career that has been full of one lingering injury after another. During his sophomore season he broke his arm while diving for a pass at Wake Forest in Week 5. At the time he was third on the team in receptions, but the injury ended his season. In 2007, he finished the year fourth on the squad with 25 catches for 259 yards, but those numbers could have been higher if it was not for a hamstring injury that sidelined him for four games.


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