Clemson has had it easy the last three years when it came to the running back position. There was Travis Etienne—the two-time ACC Player of the Year—and then everyone else.
But Etienne is now playing in Jacksonville with his former Clemson teammate Trevor Lawrence, which leaves a big void at running back in Tigertown.
During the spring, competition was intense, especially between senior Lyn-J Dixon and sophomore Kobe Pace. The two head into the summer as quite possibly one and two on the depth chart. Pace’s emergence in the spring led to Chez Mellusi entering his name into the transfer portal. The junior running back perhaps also saw the writing on the wall with what freshmen running backs Will Shipley and Phil Mafah bring to the table.
In all, six running backs are still in contention to replace Etienne.
During spring practices, Swinney said Shipley and Mafah were as college ready, both physically and mentally, as any two freshman running backs he has coached. So, competition at running back is far from over and should go well into fall camp before new running backs coach C.J. Spiller has to make a hard decision on who will start against Georgia on Sept. 4, and how the pecking order will follow.
“I hope it is hard,” Swinney said after the conclusion of spring practice. “We like it when it is hard and very, very competitive. We got a bunch of talented guys. That makes everybody better.”
Pace led all runners in the spring game with 69 yards on six carries, but it was Mafah who scored the game-winning touchdown, a four-yard run with 1:58 to play in the game. Mafah got all six of his carries in the second half. He finished the game with 38 yards.
“We are blessed with these young men that we have at running back,” Swinney said. “We love these guys. It is a very talented room. It is a deep room. It is a competitive room. We got a lot of similar and unique skill sets and you saw all of that on display today.”
Shipley carried the ball six times for just 13 yards, while he did catch one pass for nine yards. Dixon ran four times for 25 yards, including a 21-yard run.
Pace opened the game with a 26-yard run and averaged 11.5 yards per carry.
Darien Rencher had two carries for seven and Michel Dukes ran three times for four yards.
“All of those guys can make plays for us. That is definitely one of the deepest positions we have on the team and one of the most competitive,” Swinney said. “We got a chance to be a pretty special group.”
Clemson will kick off the 2021 season on Sept. 4 against longtime rival Georgia. The game will be played at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte.
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