What sudden departure could mean for Clemson's backfield

What sudden departure could mean for Clemson's backfield

Football

What sudden departure could mean for Clemson's backfield

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Clemson’s most seasoned running back was a small part of the backfield rotation through the first three weeks of the season. Now he’s fading out of it completely.

Lyn-J Dixon is planning to transfer, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney revealed on his weekly radio show Monday. Assuming the senior goes through with his decision to leave the program as expected, it will mark an unceremonious end to his career in purple and orange, though it’s not all that surprising given how rocky the start to this season was for him.

Dixon waited his turn after spending the last three years as Travis Etienne’s backup, but he was held out of the first half of the Tigers’ season opener against Georgia for what Swinney referred to as team rules. Swinney then said Dixon was in running backs coach C.J. Spiller’s doghouse without divulging specifics. When asked what Dixon needed to do to be a bigger part of the offense going forward following Clemson’s win over South Carolina State in Week 2, Swinney said Dixon “just needs to grow up.”

At that point, Dixon had just five carries and six total touches before being demoted to third string on the depth chart. He got five more carries in Clemson’s win over Georgia Tech on Saturday, which were the fewest among the running backs. On Monday, Dixon told Swinney he wanted to quit the team and planned to enter the transfer portal, according to a source, which will have a trickle-down effect on the running back room.

The position has no shortage of depth with Will Shipley, Kobe Pace, Darien Rencher and Michel Dukes having also seen playing time this season, but with Dixon, Shipley and Pace being the primary backs, Dixon’s pending departure leaves the Tigers needing a viable third option. If not Rencher or Dukes, both of whom only got extended playing time in a blowout win over S.C. State, it could force freshman Phil Mafah into action.

Mafah is the only scholarship running back that hasn’t seen the field yet this season. Swinney said earlier in the season that Mafah is “as good as anybody we’ve got” but that he would ideally like to redshirt the four-star signee by only playing him in four games. On Monday, Swinney said he’ll have to reconsider that now with Dixon out of the picture.

While the Tigers work on solidifying their depth behind their top two backs, Dixon’s departure also likely further cements Shipley’s status as the Tigers’ RB1. While Swinney and offensive coordinator Tony Elliott weren’t willing to go that far when asked if the true freshman had done enough through three games to be the featured back, things have been trending in that direction.

Shipley, a five-star recruit, made his collegiate debut on Clemson’s offensive series of the season and has seen his role gradually expand. In Saturday’s white-knuckler against Tech, it was Shipley who was in the game during crunch time and scored both of Clemson’s touchdowns. His team-high 21 carries were nearly double the amount for Pace and Dixon combined (12).

Football season has finally arrived. Time to represent your Tigers and show your stripes!

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