Talented true freshmen Michel Dukes and Chez Mellusi have both taken advantage of limited playing time thus far this season, showing flashes of their potential as they battle for more opportunities at running back behind starter Travis Etienne and backup Lyn-J Dixon.
Mellusi has played in three of Clemson’s first four games, logging 24 snaps, while Dukes has also played in three games and been on the field for 25 snaps. Mellusi has carried the ball 13 times for 123 yards (9.5 average) and one touchdown, while Dukes has 12 rushing attempts for 78 yards (6.5 average) and one touchdown.
Clemson co-offensive coordinator and running backs coach Tony Elliott gave some insight into the competition between Dukes and Mellusi when he met with the media this week.
“It’s day to day, it’s week to week,” Elliott said. “I think they each have a different set of skills. You watch Chez run, he’s a violent, downhill, one-cut runner. You watch Dukes, he’s very elusive, likes to get in open space, very quick twitch.
“So they’re different, but I think the biggest thing for them is week to week being able to grasp what the protection plan is.”
Dukes carried four times for 46 yards in top-ranked Clemson’s 52-10 win over Charlotte last Saturday and scored on a 24-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. A week earlier, Mellusi made the most of his lone carry at Syracuse, breaking off a 57-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter of the 41-6 win at the Carrier Dome.
Elliott has plenty of confidence in Dukes and Mellusi from a rushing standpoint, but wants to see more progress and consistency from the pair of frosh when it comes to pass protection.
“The biggest thing for those guys is me having the confidence to put them in the game if they can keep my quarterback upright,” Elliott said. “I think running the football, they have a good grasp of what we’re trying to do from a schematic standpoint. But the biggest thing is just me having the confidence that they can make the adjustments and be able to communicate with the offensive line, the quarterback, as quick as it happens in the game so that they can get in there.”
The Tigers played 111 players in Saturday’s game against Charlotte, giving a lot of freshmen the chance to show what they can do including Mellusi and Dukes.
Elliott is pleased with their mindset and work ethic, and hopes to see continued development from them as the season progresses.
“They both have a great attitude,” Elliott said. “They both understand where they’re at on the depth chart, they understand why they’re there, they understand the things that they’ve got to work on, and they attack it every single week.
“The other night was a really good opportunity for us to get them some playing time, and hopefully as the season goes on, we’ll continue to have more opportunities to get them in there so they can show me in the game, not just on the practice field.”
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