Clemson Football 2020 Preview: Tigers are extremely deep, talented at running back
With Travis Etienne returning for the 2020 football season, Clemson’s running back room got a lot stronger than most were expecting.
Etienne, the ACC’s two-time Player of the Year, brings back his 4,038 career yards and 60-plus touchdowns, as well as two years of experience as a starter and playing in 43 games. He is the most experienced running back Clemson has had since the days of James Davis, C.J. Spiller and Andre Ellington.
Even more surprising than the return of Etienne is the return of his backup, Lyn-J Dixon, who was in line to become the starter if Etienne decided to turn professional. Many expected Dixon to transfer and finish his college career elsewhere with Etienne coming back.
Instead, Dixon decided to stick it out and will wait for his turn to be Clemson’s starter in 2021. The Tigers also return the services of Chez Mellusi and Michel Dukes, who both played sparingly as freshmen in 2019. Former walk-on Darien Rencher also decided to return for his senior year.
When freshmen running backs Demarkcus Bowman and Kobe Pryor get on campus later this summer, once the COVID-19 quarantine is lifted, Clemson will have seven running backs on its roster.
Here are some of the comments on each of the Tigers’ five current running backs that participated in the nine spring practices that were complete prior to COVID-19 shutting down all sports-related activities and practices.
Offensive Coordinator Tony Elliott on Travis Etienne:
- “For Travis I wanted to make sure I educated him best on my understanding on what is ahead, then the decision is up to him. Really wasn’t surprised, being around Travis, the young man he is. He cares about being a leader in his family, how much he cares about his education and where he values football. To have a guy like that come back as a coach makes you a better coach.”
Trevor Lawrence on Etienne being back in the backfield one more year:
- “He is just a great guy. It is an opportunity for him to build his leadership. Everybody is looking up to him now, especially on this team. He is a big leader for us. I think it will be good for him to grow a little bit more and work on his game and then also get another chance to go win a national championship.”
Elliott on the decision younger running backs had to make with Etienne back:
- “For some of those younger guys they had to make a decision. They probably came here thinking Travis will make the transition after three years and then would have the opportunity to compete.”
Elliott on if he sees any of the running backs transferring in the future:
- “As of right now, I don’t foresee it. I think we kind of got through that window where there might have been some. I think all of those guys … and I told them, ‘Look the biggest thing is, I can’t tell you what to do. But I know if you were my son, I would tell you to stick it out and fight it out, especially you younger guys early in your career. Just see what happens because there are lessons to be learned in competing.”
Elliot on Lyn-J Dixon expecting to step into Travis’s spot:
- “Lyn-J is one who is really just figuring out life. He is a guy who is very competitive and wants to play. He was geared up for his opportunity to naturally step into the role. Really proud of him, he decided ‘I’m going to step back and mature and grow’ and see it as an opportunity to play with a pro and learn how to prepare like a pro. Really take advantage of his opportunity. Not worry about the quantity of his reps but more about the quality. Really proud of his maturity, he is ready to challenge and compete.”
Elliott on how Dixon handled Etienne’s return:
- “His reaction was, I think he was hopeful in a way, but not in a bad way. It’s nothing personal to Travis. They’ve got a great relationship, but he was kind of hopeful that Travis was going to move on so that he could naturally step into that. But we were getting on the same page (during the meeting) about what my expectations are for him, where he is as a junior. He’s no longer a sophomore and we expect how he’s going to conduct himself on and off the field and really just kind of getting on the same page. So, I think he was taken aback, but then after he walked out and thought about it, he came back the next day with a smile on his face, ready to go.”
Elliott on what he told his running backs when it comes to getting carries this fall:
- “Whenever you go to the fish bond to go feed the fish, you got pellets, but there are not enough pellets to feed every fish in the pond. You drop the pellets and whoever gets to the top gets it,” Elliott said. “I told the guys not to worry about how many reps, just worry about the quality of your reps. ‘We have proven over the years we are going to play four or five guys and we will try to get you opportunities. Just go compete, and you never know. You never know, you are one snap away. The biggest thing for me is to have them ready to play, but to get more production out of them on special teams, too. I think they can really, really make an impact.”
Head coach Dabo Swinney on Mellusi and Dukes in the spring:
- “Chez was a guy we kind of noticed early in fall camp. He had some maturity to him. Mikey needed to mature. I just think he was just happy to be there.”
Swinney on Dukes’ performance in the spring:
- “He really ramped it up and he is competing very well,” Swinney said. “All of those guys, and obviously, we have a couple of good ones coming in this summer. It will be a very competitive room for sure.”
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