As he stands in the back of the line waiting to get his carry during individual drills while wearing a No. 9 orange jersey, Travis Etienne resembles Wayne Gallman.
When he takes the handoff and does not even flinch as he hits the ball up inside the line between the tackles, the freshman looks like Wayne Gallman. When he spins or has that clumsy move that somehow allows him to break a tackle or make the defender miss, Etienne resembles Wayne Gallman.
When he breaks the ball outside and hits another gear as he runs away from the defender, Etienne looks nothing like Wayne Gallman.
“Physically he looks like Wayne,” Clemson running backs coach and co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said. “He has that number nine and if you were here when Wayne was a young guy, Wayne was all over the place. He was violent. He was fast and he was running hard. Over time, he was able to refine his style.”
And though Etienne has all of those traits, too, his style is totally different than Gallman’s because of his speed and vision.
“Their styles are different,” Elliott said. “Wayne was a downhill powerful guy. He could get to the second level, but he just did not have that third level, home-run ability. Travis has that all. He is very, very natural. I would say that right now, at this stage in his career, his eyes are better than Wayne’s were as a freshman.
“He just sees it. He sees the cutback. He sees the field and that is just something you can’t teach. I will say that he is more of a natural runner. They look a lot of like because they are a little bit clumsy … I’m very, very pleased with where he is at as a runner.”
But being a running back at Clemson is not just about running the football, and that is where Etienne does not resemble Gallman either. It did not help that the Jennings, La., native played in an option-style offense in high school and did not play much on defense.
“Anytime we have the perimeter runs, he is used to that. Also, he can run between the tackles,” Elliott said. “So running the football, he is going to be prepared like Wayne was, but Wayne spent more time on defense (in high school). So Travis was an offensive guy where he was refining his skills every day.
“The biggest challenge is learning how to identify the defense and seeing it from a different vantage point because now you are in the I-(formation) as opposed to being the jet-sweep guy or down there in a three-point stance in the fullback position or the B-back in an option offense so it is a big transition.”
Especially when defensive coordinator Brent Venables brings all kinds of crazy blitzes and looks to try and confuse the young running back.
“Now he has a lot of work to do there,” Elliott said.
However, Etienne is showing flashes at times that he is getting it, and though he is still behind C.J. Fuller, Tavien Feaster and Adam Choice on the depth chart, Elliott has been pleased with his progress.
“It is my job to grow him up as a pass protector,” the Clemson coach said.
So far in last week’s full scrimmage and Wednesday’s situational scrimmage, Etienne has led the Tigers in rushing. He had a 32-yard touchdown last Saturday, and this past Wednesday he broke free for a 60-yard score.
“I will tell you what, he is fast, he is quick and he has a great feel. He is a natural runner,” Elliott said. “As a runner, he is probably looked the best in camp so far with breaking tackles and breaking plays. He is definitely the quickest and he does not know anything so he is just playing ball out there.”
Etienne more than likely, by default, will play for Clemson this fall because the Tigers have just four scholarship running backs. In camp, he has worked with the first-team some and with Choice out with a groin injury during the last week, he got a lot of work with the second group.
“He is competing,” Elliott said. “If you go just off of production in camp, then he has been the most productive in terms of making plays in the run game.”
But is the freshman to the point where the coaches trust him to be on the field for a long period of time?
“By far he is not the most dependable because there is just so much he has to learn,” Elliott said. “The background he is coming from was option, identifying defense and all that stuff is new to him. He is a quick learner. He is working his tail off. He is a pleasure to coach. He practices like a practice player so I’m hoping he will be ready once we need him.
“As a runner, I’m just trying not to mess him up because he definitely has a ton of natural ability and I think everybody knew that when we recruited him. But now I have to grow him up as a pass protector.”
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