When looking forward to assess his running backs, Dabo Swinney can’t help but look back.
He eyes his current defensive line as the comparison.
A group made up of five senior starters or co-starters, most Tiger linemen came in unheralded, including former three-star prospects Vic Beasley and Grady Jarrett.
Clemson’s bowl depth chart lists freshmen tailbacks Wayne Gallman and Tyshon Dye at the top, both four-stars, but more well-known regionally than nationwide, while junior former walk-on C.J. Davidson is another on board for next year.
That’s just the start, however, as the 2015 campaign also will include Zac Brooks (rising redshirt junior) and Adam Choice (rising sophomore), who suffered season-ending injuries – and the nation’s No. 2 athlete, Tampa native Ray-Ray McCloud III, slated for early enrollment in January.
“We’ve got a lot of pieces at running back,” Swinney said this week during bowl practice. “It’s kinda like where we all were at defensive line a couple years ago. All these guys were young and had a long way to go. We’re going to be good next year and a couple years from now we’re going to be really salty at that position.”
A presence around practice and returning in spring, Swinney says Brooks — since suffering a foot injury two weeks to the opener — has been “one of the best leaders on the team.”
“He knows everything about the offense to the nth degree,” Swinney said. “He would have been the starter coming out of the gate. He’s got a bright future.”
Peach State products Gallman and Dye represent Clemson’s present versus Oklahoma’s top-10 run defense.
Gallman capped his debut season against South Carolina with Clemson’s best single-game rushing total in the past three seasons (191). He finished with three 100-yard efforts in a five-game stretch, which hadn’t been done since Andre Ellington in 2010.
Confidence molded through the season aided the strong finish, when he averaged 6.3 yards per carry with three of his four touchdowns in November.
“Just throughout all these games and the experience I’ve gotten,” Gallman said. “I’m pretty much prepared for anything just as long as I prepare myself.”
“Trusting my offensive line and knowing that the holes are going to open up and just trusting it. Comes with my practice habits and being the best I can be.”
“Guys have to learn,” Swinney said. “Have to go play. Doesn’t just happen. Especially when you’re dealing with a guy that was a wingback (in high school). Really hadn’t played a lot of true running back and understanding the zone, counter and power and how to run and pass protections. There’s a lot going on.
“We didn’t really trust him at the very beginning of the season but as the season went on, he really got better and better and by the South Carolina game, you saw what you saw. He is playing faster because he’s more confident.”
Dye emerged as an option late after suffering a torn Achilles in winter workouts. In action primarily against Wake Forest and Georgia State, the former four-star prospect posted a 83.3 success rate on first downs (at least half of the yards needed).
“I couldn’t be more excited,” Swinney said. “Zac Brooks looks great physically. He’s moving around well. Have him back for spring. We love Adam Choice, at some point he’ll be back. Tyshon Dye’s looked great.
“He just needs an offseason, spring and he’ll be good to go. Obviously, Gallman’s seen improvement. (Redshirt freshman) C.J. Fuller is a guy that no one really asks me about and he will have a nice career here if he stays healthy.”