Clemson coach Dabo Swinney says his running backs have a lot of love for Wayne Gallman, but they are “so happy” the leading rusher from the past two seasons has moved on to the New York Giants of the NFL.
“He was such an alpha, and he was so defined,” Swinney said. “He was such a worker. The good news is they know what it looks like.”
Gallman set the single-season rushing mark with his 1,527 yards in 2015, and he followed it up with another 1,100 in 2016.
Swinney’s right. C.J. Fuller, Adam Choice, Tavien Feaster and Travis Etienne know what they’re replacing.
So who will do it?
“It’s up to them,” co-offensive coordinator and running backs coach Tony Elliott said.
Clemson entered fall camp Thursday with no true starter in mind. Fuller is tops on the depth chart after emerging as the No. 2 behind Gallman late last season. But Fuller’s 47 carries is the most returning in the backfield.
Choice was the starter in 2014 before he suffered a knee injury that cost him two full seasons and allowed Gallman to take the lead.
Feaster is the most heralded of the bunch out of Spartanburg and drew instant comparisons to former Tiger great C.J. Spiller, but Feaster played sporadically as a freshman.
A lot has changed since then for all of them.
“This is probably the best competition that I’ve had since I’ve been here,” Elliott said. “There’s three guys and legitimately, any of them could become the starting tailback. By the looks of it, there’s going to be a little pressure put on by the freshman (Etienne) too. He looks very, very natural back there.”
Ideally, Elliott would like to see somebody emerge as that alpha dog in the backfield, but just like at quarterback, it’s something that will likely need more than fall camp to play out.
“It’s a lot of talented guys,” Clemson linebacker Kendall Joseph said. “All of them are humble and work hard. I think it just kind of has to be who steps up in game time. I don’t know if anybody will truly pull away in practice.”
That means Elliott could have to turn to the committee approach. In the meantime, he’s working with the backs on understanding what they need to do before they get to the line of scrimmage, and after that, their athletic abilities take over at the next level.
Pass protection is also a major key. It’s why Fuller got ahead of Feaster last year. Choice must trust his repaired knee and handle that responsibility as well, and until they get the pads on next week, it’s not something Elliott can truly assess.
“They know what it takes to be the starter. That’s the positive,” Elliott said. “They saw Wayne do it for two years. They know the expectation at practice, they know the expectations to play. Now we’ve just got to see who wants it the most in practice.”