Shouldn’t it say something about the run game last season that undersized Rod McDowell became Clemson’s most proficient back, and, out of necessity, quarterback Tajh Boyd and converted long jumper C.J. Davidson were the most dependable in short yardage?
Admittedly, said offensive coordinator Chad Morris, the run game was only “good at times,” and certainly not as effective as it was the previous year with Andre Ellington.
As injuries gutted his options, taking down three of the four on the depth chart for chunks of the season, and his best freshman prospect for the entire year, Morris manufactured a run game through his stubbornness and creativity.
“We need to run the football better,” Morris said. “We need to be a better run-oriented football team.”
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Last season, McDowell more than doubled his career production with 1,025 yards, but, as a team, Clemson’s run production was off about 20 percent.
“I think we can all agree we got everything we possibly could out of Hot Rod McDowell,” Morris said. “For that young man to come out here and rush for 1,000 yards and do what he did his senior year I think was amazing.”
McDowell and Boyd accounted for 63 percent of Clemson’s 2,200 rushing yards. Due to injuries, tZac Brooks (shoulder), D.J. Howard (ankle and shoulder) and Davidson (ankle) finished with a net 614.
Brooks, Davidson and Howard return, but what reassures coach Dabo Swinney and Morris are five players with impressive pedigrees that Clemson has signed the past two years.
“I think we’re going to be fine at running back. In fact, I think we’re going to be better than fine,” Swinney said. “I think we’re going to be better than we were this past year, a lot better.”
No fewer than three new faces could compete for playing time, perhaps a couple more once the remaining members of this year’s freshman class join the team for summer drills.
A year ago, Morris entered the season believing he would have freshman Tyshon Dye, a power runner with speed at 5-11 and 210 pounds. Dye’s season was cut short when a back injury required surgery. In February he tore an Achilles tendon and had additional surgery.
“This young man is getting a huge dose of perseverance and patience at a very young age, but the best thing about Tyshon is that he has nothing but time on his side,” Swinney said. “We’ve all got to have a little patience.”
Dye’s classmate Wayne Gallman is a running back candidate. Several options from this year’s freshman class include Adam Choice and a pair of local products in Jae’lon Oglesby and C.J. Fuller. Former pro baseball player Kurt Fleming also is a candidate.
“I’m not worried about our running back position. We’re going to be outstanding at running back,” Swinney said.
Gallman could push Brooks and Howard. Oglesby and Fuller might need time to grow. Fuller is a wild card because he hasn’t played football in nearly five years after signing with the Atlanta Braves, but Swinney said he plays with an abandon.
“Of all the positions we have it’s probably the deepest we’ve had in quite some time,” Morris said. “So (we are) expecting a lot of good things out of that group.”