By Will Vandervort.
By Will Vandervort
Today we take a look at the Clemson running back situation which will be a little less fluent than it has been in years past.
For a second straight year, the Tigers must replace a 1,000-yard runner with a back that has limited experience. This year’s situation can be classified as even more “critical” than last year. Roderick McDowell at least brought a little more experience to the table and showed more flashes that he can be the “guy” than anyone on the list heading into spring practice this year.
In 2012, McDowell rushed for 450 yards and scored five touchdowns, while averaging 5.4 yards per carry. He said in the spring and in fall camp that he was ready to be the guy and that he could carry the ball as many times as Clemson needed him to. He backed up those claims by rushing for 1,025 yards and five touchdowns, while averaging 5.4 yards per carry.
McDowell also proved he could carry the ball a lot and take the punishment that comes with it when he carried the football 30 times for a career-high 161 yards and two scores in the Tigers’ victory at Maryland this past fall.
So now comes the question, is there a Roderick McDowell in this year crop of running backs? Or better yet, is there a C.J. Spiller, James Davis or Andre Ellington type lurking in the bushes that is ready to show what he or they can do?
Here are the candidates to be watching for in spring practice this year.
- Zac Brooks, 6-1, 190, Jr. – Brooks was the team’s primary backup to McDowell before injuring his shoulder at Maryland. He missed three of the last five games, including the South Carolina game and the Orange Bowl. He had his shoulder scoped and cleaned out after the South Carolina game and says he will be ready by spring practice. Brooks showed flashes he can be the primary running back at times this year. He had 365 yards on 74 carries and scored two touchdowns, while averaging 5.1 yards per carry. He rushed for 46 yards on nine carries at Syracuse and 42 yards against Boston College. He also has very good hands, caught six passes for 83 yards this year, including a 31-yard diving catch for a touchdown against Georgia in the season opener. The lone knock on Brooks is his ability to stay healthy. He has missed significant time in each of his first two seasons due to injury.
- D.J. Howard, 6-0, 195, Sr. – Howard has served as a reserved running back in each of the last three seasons. Has shown flashes here and there while exhibiting a tough running style in his limited carries. He has 581 career yards and five touchdowns on 133 carries. He has started two games in his career. He has shown signs he can catch the ball out of the backfield as well. He has 11 career receptions for 158 yards and a touchdown, which was a 75-yard score against Wake Forest this past season when he took a screen pass in the flats from Tajh Boyd and broke it down the sideline. Like Brooks, injuries have slowed him down at times in his career as he missed four games due to injury in his first two years at Clemson, but he played in all 13 games this past season at running back and on special teams.
- C.J. Davidson, 5-10, 190, Jr. – The former walk-on has used his speed and athletic ability to make an impact at the running back position. A one-time track athlete at Clemson, Davidson used his speed to become a part of Chad Morris’ game plan at times this past season. He rushed 34 times for 155 yards and scored four touchdowns in his limited opportunities this past year. He missed two games this year because of ankle injury. He runs hard and hits the gaps quickly, but he needs to get stronger and bigger. Some question if he can handle the day-to-day pounding the running back position will absorb.
- Wayne Gallman, 6-1, 200, Fr. – Gallman really came on in to fall camp and proved he can play the running back position in college. He caught on to Morris’ scheme faster than the coaches expected him to and made some plays in each of the scrimmages he played in. Now the question is can he compete for the starting position and make his way up the depth chart? Though speed is a question, he is the kind of bruising back—like Auburn running back Tre Mason—that is fitted for Morris’ offense.
- Tyshon Dye, 5-11, 215, Fr. – Dye was recruited to Clemson because his style of running is the style of choice in Morris’ fast-break scheme. Dye is a big back that can carry the load and possibly can carry the ball 40 times a game and can wear down a defense, especially at the tempo in which Morris wants to run the offense. Ask Missouri’s defense if you want to know what I’m talking about. Dye was having a good camp until a back injury sidelined him. He has since had surgery to repair the back and his rehab has been moving along fine. He also had his ankle scoped and cleaned up from an injury he suffered while in high school. Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said last week that Dye should be okay, though he doesn’t know where Dye will be this spring. Swinney says he isn’t worried where he will be this spring as much as he just wants him to be ready to go this August when they go to camp. Swinney says Dye is ready to go right now, but they have to be careful being that he is coming off back surgery.