Tony Elliott has been pleased with what he’s seen from freshmen running backs Chez Mellusi and Michel Dukes through the first week of fall camp heading into the team’s first scrimmage Saturday.
Mellusi and Dukes, both of whom enrolled this summer, are doing a good job of competing and picking up the offense according to Clemson’s co-offensive coordinator and running backs coach.
“I’ve been very impressed,” Elliott said following Friday’s practice. “They’re both very competitive. The way the recruiting process is, you don’t get to go to as many practices as you want, you only get to go see them play one time or two times. So, it’s hard to assess that. But both of them are highly competitive. They take pride in their work. They’re both learning well, they’re picking up the system. I’ve been impressed with their willingness to pass protect. I think both of them are very athletic. They both run well, they catch the ball well.
“So, the things that I saw initially that drew me to them (during the recruiting process) were validated. But the things that I didn’t know until you get them in our environment, how they’re going to respond to the competition and how they’re going to respond to the physicality, I’ve been impressed.”
Elliott likes the way that Mellusi and Dukes complement one another with their respective skillsets. The former is more of a straight-line runner while the latter is an elusive back adept at catching the ball.
Elliott had particularly high praise for Dukes regarding his ability as a pass-catcher, mentioning him in the same breath as one of the best all-purpose backs in Clemson history.
“I think Mikey’s got the most natural ball skills of any guy that I’ve had, including (Andre) Ellington,” Elliott said. “It’s just easy for him. You can see it.”
Dukes finished his prep career at First Baptist School in Charleston, S.C., with 685 carries for 8,762 rushing yards and 117 rushing touchdowns in addition to 34 receptions for 743 yards and nine receiving touchdowns.
As good as Dukes was on the gridiron, what really caught Elliott’s eye during the recruiting process was the athleticism Dukes displayed on the basketball court for First Baptist.
Dukes scored more than 1,500 points on the hardwood and had some offers to play college basketball. This spring, he won the annual Slam Fest dunk contest in North Charleston.
“What really sold me on Mikey is just watching him play basketball,” Elliott said. “I always knew, and I had him in camp since he was in eighth grade, so I’ve always seen the ball skills. And you watch him play basketball, you see how athletic he is and how he can play above the rim, so you knew all those skills were there.”
More than anything, though, Elliott likes the toughness Dukes has shown so far in camp. It’s another thing that Elliott noticed about Dukes while watching him play basketball against five-star guard Josiah James, who signed with Tennessee last year out of Porter-Gaud School in Charleston.
“The biggest thing that’s really impressed me with Mikey is his toughness,” Elliott said. “I got a glimpse of that really watching him play basketball when he was matched up against Josiah that went to Tennessee. Josiah’s 6-6, Mikey’s 5-11 at best, and he just battled him. So, I’ve been really impressed with his toughness and his willingness to put his face in the fan.
“Both him and Chez have a willingness to pass protect. They understand the importance, they’ve just got to work on their technique.”