It remains to be seen what role freshman Travis Etienne will play for Clemson this season, as the team’s other three scholarship running backs have a leg up on him in experience.
But one of the biggest questions entering fall camp was who will replace Wayne Gallman at running back, and heading into the Tigers’ first preseason scrimmage on Saturday, it is apparent that Etienne wants to make the running back competition a four-man race.
Clemson running backs coach Tony Elliott spoke highly of Etienne after the first day of practice last Thursday, saying it looked like he would put some pressure on redshirt juniors Adam Choice and C.J. Fuller and sophomore Tavien Feaster.
After Clemson’s sixth practice of camp on Wednesday, Elliott spoke about Etienne again and had more praise for the first-year back.
“The thing that you notice the most is how explosive he is. Man, he’s fast,” Elliott said. “His first step — I thought Wayne had a fast first step. The difference here is he has a fast first step, and he has a fast finish.”
Etienne’s explosive ability helped him account for 8,864 total yards and 115 total touchdowns during his career at Jennings (La.) High. As a senior, the former top-125 prospect by ESPN rushed for 2,459 yards on just 211 attempts (11.7-yard average) with 35 touchdowns. He recorded at least 100 yards rushing in 12 of 13 games, including six games with at least 200 yards rushing.
Not only has Etienne impressed Elliott and the staff with his talent, he’s done so while making a big adjustment from an option offense in high school to Clemson’s hurry-up, no-huddle attack at the next level.
Etienne has also done a good job thus far of absorbing Clemson’s heavy offensive installation and retaining what he’s been taught.
“For him, just very proud of the transition that he’s made,” Elliott said. “In high school, the terminology was different, he was in a huddle, he was used to hearing the play call. Now he’s got to get everything from signals.”
Like any freshman, though, Etienne still has plenty to work on.
It starts with improving in pass protection and getting stronger. Much like fellow freshman Tee Higgins, Etienne was a two-sport athlete in high school who played basketball during the football offseason and wasn’t able to spend as much time in the weight room.
“He’s 197 pounds. You can tell that he’s been a multi-sport athlete,” Elliott said. “He played basketball, so his strength’s not where it needs to be, but he’s slamming his body in there. … Pass protection, he has a lot of work to do from a technique standpoint.”
A week into fall camp, however, the pros of Etienne’s performance have certainly outweighed the cons.
“The biggest thing is the explosion, the toughness and just the way he sees it,” Elliott said. “He finds holes, and his understanding and his football knowledge, those are things that impressed me.”
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