With just eight days left before Clemson and Georgia kick off the season with their top-5 clash in Charlotte, Dabo Swinney still hasn’t seen much separation among the Tigers’ running backs.
At this point, Clemson’s coach isn’t really looking for it.
“They’re all kind of right there (near the top of the depth chart),” Swinney said.
Swinney compared the options in the backfield to the depth the Tigers have at defensive end, where five players have started multiple games for Clemson. Neither Lyn-J Dixon, Kobe Pace nor true freshman Will Shipley have started a game at running back for Clemson, but that’s likely to change inside Bank of America Stadium on Sept. 4.
They’ve consistently led the competition having all gotten first-team reps during fall camp, but as for which one takes the field for the Tigers’ first offensive snap?
“I mean, I don’t really care who runs out there,” Swinney said. “I’ve got confidence in those guys. Those guys are ready to play. A lot of competition, but competition among really good players. And I feel really good about that group.”
So the task of replacing the ACC’s all-time leading rusher, Travis Etienne, is trending toward a committee approach among Clemson’s current collection of backs, which also includes Derion Rencher, Michel Dukes and another freshman, Phil Mafah. All of them bring something a little bit different at this point of their respective careers.
For Dixon, it’s a wealth of knowledge and experience. The 5-foot-10, 195-pound is heading into his fourth year in the offense with 1,372 rushing yards and 519 career snaps having served as Etienne’s primary backup the last couple of seasons.
At 5-10 and 210 pounds, Pace may have the best combination of size and shiftiness at the position and will have a much larger role after getting just 23 touches out of the backfield as a freshman last season. As for Shipley, there aren’t yet any collegiate snaps to his name, but, according to his coaches and teammates, the five-star signee’s skill set has been as advertised ever since he arrived on campus in January.
Most notably, Shipley possesses the kind of speed that already has his teammates debating whether or not he’s the fastest player on Clemson’s roster. The Tigers could also try to take advantage of that by getting Shipley in space as a receiver or even in the return game.
“He’s probably a good assumption,” Swinney said, referencing the likelihood of Shipley seeing the field early and often this season. “He’s a definite guy. Don’t think there’s any big secret there.”
Rencher, who began his career as a walk-on, is a sixth-year player that hasn’t gotten a ton of opportunities (74 career carries) but has Swinney’s trust whenever he’s on the field. Dukes missed part of fall camp but is back with the team while Mafah, a four-star recruit, is already the biggest back on the roster at 6-1 and 225 pounds.
“I don’t foresee a situation where one guy is playing,” Swinney said. “I think we’ve got a really, really talented group, and they’ll all have a hand in it.”
Football season has finally arrived. Time to represent your Tigers and show your stripes!