Spring position battles to watch
Clemson will open spring practice on Wednesday and like every year, there are always those few positions where competition is going to be at a different level.
Most of these position battles will take place on the offensive side of the football. However, perhaps the most watched will be at running back where the Tigers must replace the ACC’s all-time leader in rushing yards, scoring, total touchdowns and rushing touchdowns.
There likely is no one harder on offense to replace than Travis Etienne.
The Clemson running back, who is projected by many to be a first-round pick in April’s NFL Draft, also set all-time receiving records by a Clemson running back, breaking C.J. Spiller’s career marks for receptions and yards.
Etienne finished his career at Clemson with 4,952 yards, while scoring 70 rushing touchdowns. He also caught 102 passes for 1,155 yards and eight more touchdowns. He played in 55 games at Clemson, including 42 of them as the starter. He produced 468 points and is the NCAA record holder for most career games scoring a touchdown, which stands at 46.
In the 42 games Etienne started, the Tigers went 39-3. He played a huge role in Clemson’s run to a 15-0 season and winning the national championship in 2018.
What also makes the running back competition so interesting this spring is the fact there will be a new position coach. Spiller is now the coach and he is likely to have a different style and philosophy coaching the running backs than Tony Elliott had.
Who will replace Etienne in the backfield?
The likely candidate is senior Lyn-J Dixon. It would have been understandable if Dixon had left Clemson for more opportunities prior to last year. Playing time does not come easy when you play behind a generational-type player such as Etienne.
But with great patience comes great reward, and Dixon will get his opportunity this spring to show what he can do.
The rising senior enters 2021 with 1,372 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns on 208 career attempts and 183 yards on 18 catches in 38 games. He enters his fourth season ranked second in school history, behind Etienne, in yards per carry (6.60).
Working behind Dixon and vying for the job will be Chez Mellusi. The junior saw his playing time increase last year, especially with Dixon banged up for much of the year. However, when Dixon was healthy, Mellusi was still at times the first guy off the bench to spell Etienne. He also played in key situations late in games down the stretch.
Also, graduate senior Darien Rencher will be competing for playing time. He had the second longest run of the season last year behind Etienne. Michel Dukes and Kobe Pace will be battling for serious playing time as well, while also trying to fight off freshmen Will Shipley and Phil Mafah, who come to Clemson with high credentials.
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