Junior Travis Etienne is on everybody’s Heisman watch list entering the 2019 season.
But despite his Clemson record 26 single-season touchdowns in 2018 and single-season rushing record of 1,658 yards, there was still work to do this off-season to prove himself as an NFL-ready running back.
Frequently over the last two seasons, Etienne went to the sideline on third down because of struggles in pass blocking and catching the ball out of the backfield.
But in year three, Etienne is poised to cement himself as a third-down threat.
“Oh my gosh it’s totally different now then when I was a freshman. When I watched film from my freshman year, I would say ‘I didn’t know I was that bad,’” Etienne told The Clemson Insider Friday when asked about his progress in pass protection. “I definitely got much better and it’s a testament to Coach (Tony) Elliott and how much patience he had with me.”
Elliott, Etienne’s position coach and Clemson’s co-offensive coordinator, sees a new sense of urgency and spirit of leadership in the junior tailback and looks forward to seeing it play out this season.
“He’s embraced that if he wants to perform at the next level he has to be a third-down type guy from a pass protection standpoint and a pass receiving standpoint,” Elliott said.
Etienne admitted the freshmen in the program now are much better at filling gaps in long yardage situations then when he entered the program and he is thankful for Elliott’s willingness to teach him how to defend against a pass rush.
The Jennings, Louisiana native played in an all-out rushing attack in high school, rarely giving him the opportunity to block in a passing situation or catch the ball.
Despite entering behind the curve, Etienne now feels comfortable protecting quarterback Trevor Lawrence in addition to posing a threat out of the backfield.
“Inside the A-gap, I can fit up with the linebackers now, and set my feet without getting blown back,” Etienne said.
In regard to catching the football, Etienne had previously admitted to a lack of confidence running routes. In two seasons he has caught 17 passes for 135 yards and two touchdowns.
“I’ve built a lot of confidence catching balls everyday while working with the quarterbacks,” Etienne said. “I have definitely overcome that and I feel like I’m a lot better out of the backfield now.”
The talent in Clemson’s running back room with sophomore Lyn-J Dixon, junior Darien Rencher and freshmen Michel Dukes and Chez Mellusi has pushed Etienne to improve his game and stay away from the headlines.
An improved Etienne, who poses a true threat on third down, makes him all the more dangerous as the Tigers fight to defend their national title.