With all eyes on the quarterback battle at Clemson this spring, the running back competition was overlooked by some.
But the Tigers have three solid options in returning starter Tavien Feaster, sophomore Travis Etienne and senior Adam Choice.
Feaster entered the spring No. 1 on the depth chart, but the battle to be the starter in 2018 is far from over.
"You know if you started how we started with Tavien at the top, I really think the other two have pushed him and probably leveled it out a little bit more than where it was. And that's going to be key for us this summer, because now everybody knows that we haven't settled this thing yet and there's going to be a lot that can be gained this summer and fall camp,” Clemson co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said. “So I really, really like the push from the other two guys, and that's caused Tavien to have to elevate his game. And that's one thing I think in challenging him is just to go out and dominate and be the player that he's capable of being."
The other two running backs gaining ground on Feaster was because of them playing well rather than Feaster taking a step back.
The junior from Spartanburg had “the best practice of his career” late in the spring, according to Tigers coach Dabo Swinney. And he appears ready to build off last year’s breakout season that saw him rush for 669 yards and seven touchdowns, while averaging 6.3 yards per carry.
Feaster changed his diet this offseason and is trying to slim down to become more explosive.
“When he first got here, he was coming off of that shoulder, so he needed a little bit of extra weight to help with that shoulder to be able to function, and now he's at a point where his strength has caught back up. Now we're trying to slim him down just a little bit to see if can we pick up some more initial explosion,” Elliott said. “He's a guy where when he hits the open field, nobody is going to catch him; but he's different from Travis in that Travis is very explosive initially, no one can maintain his top speed, and we're trying to get Tavien to that point where he can increase his initial explosion to complement that long speed he has."
Etienne also had a breakout season in 2017, rushing for a team-high 766 yards and 13 touchdowns as a freshman.
The Louisiana native averaged 7.2 yards per carry while displaying impressive strength, quickness and speed.
“Travis is very steady. He flashes. He’s improving. He’s getting better. He’s still growing with his pass protection. He’s getting stronger,” Swinney said. “A lot of his work’s going to take place (in the weight room) this summer. This is going to be his laboratory. But he’s made a lot of progress mentally too.”
Choice finished with 326 yards and six touchdowns last season and was also a strong veteran presence in the locker room.
The Georgia native is great in pass protection, has good hands and appeared quicker during the spring than he has in earlier parts of his career. Choice is aiming to make his final season at Clemson his best.
Feaster is working on being more of a leader in the running back room, but right now, that title belongs to Choice.
“I think the overall leader has to be Adam,” Feaster said. “He’s trying to lead these guys and show them what it means to be the starter and don’t take it for granted.”
No matter who earns the starting job, all three running backs will be counted on this fall.
They believe they are ready to help the Tigers return to the College Football Playoff for the fourth consecutive season.
“Me, (Tavien) and Adam, I feel the sky’s the limit. Just us going into summer workouts and attacking it, that’s definitely going to play a huge role in what we do throughout the season. I mean, it’s all up to us as far as our mentality, how we take on the season. But we can be as good as we want to be,” Etienne said. “I feel like we’re at our best when each of us is being able to rotate in and out of the game. We each bring something different to the table, and keeping us fresh, that’s when we’ll be at our best.”