With the understanding that the shelf life of a running back doesn't last but a couple of years in the NFL, former Pittsburgh Steelers running back Jerome Bettis figured a way he could keep what is now a Hall of Fame career going after several years in which he battered and bruised linemen and linebackers to the tune of almost 1,500 yards annually.
But after five years in the NFL and with his body becoming more and more
sore and taking longer and longer to heal following games, he decided he
could no longer put his body through the grinder so he started working on
his feet and shiftiness in hopes of making the first guy at the point of
It turned out to be what made this bruising fullback, who played tailback
in the NFL, one of the more unique runners the game has ever seen.
Weighing more than 260 pounds, Bettis had the feet of a ballerina and an
ability to make the first or second guy miss, while allowing him to play
another eight more seasons. He finished his NFL career at the time as the
game's fifth all-time leading rusher and as a Super Bowl Champion.
Clemson's Jamie Harper has a long way to go before he can be totally
compared to Bettis, but the 5-foot-11, 220-pound running does appear to
have the same nimble feet, which allows him to avoid contact at the point
of attack and get to the second level.
"Being a big back everyone just expects you to rollover defenders, but
coming in and being a slasher and giving them a move every now and then,
it keeps them a little off balance and helps you not get hit as much while
also gaining a little more extra yardage," Harper said.
Harper's ability to make people miss and to show that kind of shiftiness,
surprises his position coach from time to time.
"Just like Andre (Ellington) plays bigger than what he is, Jamie plays
smaller or can play smaller than what he appears," running backs coach
Andre Powell said. "He has good top end speed that can make you miss and
he can do a lot of things. It is surprising sometimes."
Harper is also a smart guy. When he saw the extra pounds he put on last
season were affecting his running, he went on a strict diet in the
off-season and has stuck to it, losing almost 20 pounds. Now he has the
nimble feet and the speed, to go along with some good strength and size
which makes him one of the more unique running backs in the ACC.
"Jamie is a smart guy and is a tough guy and he is a big guy. He lost some
weight and that helped improve his mobility," Powell said. "Jamie needs to
keep working and needs to work on second level running a little bit.
"I'm very pleased with where he is and I think he is a guy that can help
us win. No doubt about it."
The Jacksonville, Fla., native is already showing that ability. With
starter C.J. Spiller sitting out the spring, Harper led the Tigers' twice
in rushing during the three major stadium scrimmages, including 83 yards
on 21 carries in the Orange and White Game.
"He was a good player before when he was 240 pounds, but when you had guys
like C.J. and James and every game was crucial, you are going to cater to
the upper classmen and to the guys that have more experience," Powell
said. "(Harper) is still a sophomore and the best thing about sophomores
is one day they are juniors.
"He will make some mistakes. You have to be able to absorb some of the
mistakes, but I would guess he's going to make a lot more plays than
The only mistake Harper has made - and it is a big one - is his inability
to hang onto the ball. Though he only fumbled twice during his freshman
season last year, the problem was he carried the football just 34 times.
A good number for a running back to have in between fumbles in usually one
to every 100 carries.
Things didn't get any better for the sophomore this spring when he lost
one fumble in the second scrimmage.
"Ball security is a big thing obviously," Powell said. "You would not like
to have any, but you know you will have some. We work on ball security
everyday and he will get better. You know quarterbacks do not like to
throw interceptions, but they are going to have some.
"You would like for the offensive line to never have a penalty, but they
will jump offsides every now and then. That's one of those things that
occur and you want to minimize it. You like to have a one in hundred
ratio. If they have 100 carries and one fumble, that's about right. You
just hope that one fumble doesn't occur when you are going in to the end
zone to win that championship."
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