Clemson University

Backups in a rush to replace Spiller

Clemson running back No. 23 Andre Ellington rushes for a first down to set up his touchdown push on the following play during the second quarter as Clemson defeats Virginia 34-21 at halftime at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2009.  Clemson's last home game of the year is to clinch the ACC Atlantic division and advance to the conference championship game against Georgia Tech.
Clemson running back No. 23 Andre Ellington rushes for a first down to set up his touchdown push on the following play during the second quarter as Clemson defeats Virginia 34-21 at halftime at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2009. Clemson's last home game of the year is to clinch the ACC Atlantic division and advance to the conference championship game against Georgia Tech.

CLEMSON - There is not much C.J. Spiller can teach Andre Ellington about running with a football, but Ellington said he still watches because there are lessons to be learned from the most dynamic running back in Clemson football history.

"Running the ball takes care of itself," Ellington said, "that's second nature to me.

"Our main focus is to not have any drop-off after C.J. leaves, try to take another step up and get into another gear. He's tried to prepare us for that."

Only time will tell if Ellington, Jamie Harper and Roderick McDowell will be able to replace Spiller.

There's not much choice, is there?

"I think we're in pretty good shape at running back with Andre and Jamie," coach Dabo Swinney said. "And I'm telling you, y'all are going to love Hot Rod."

Ellington and Harper are second and third behind Spiller's 1,145 rushing yards this season. Ellington has 471 yards and four touchdowns in his freshman season. His 7.4 yards per carry are second-best in the ACC. Harper, a sophomore, has 339 yards and three touchdowns.

With a comparable number of carries to Spiller's 201, Ellington projects to 1,487 yards and 13 touchdowns and Harper to 1,035 and 10.

"The good thing about Andre and Jamie is that they've both had some pretty significant snaps this year when games were on the line," offensive coordinator Billy Napier said. "I think for Andre in particular, this is his first year of significant playing time; this is where guys make their biggest jump, from their first significant year to their second."

Napier said he's curious about how Ellington and Harper will respond now that the door is open for them to be featured backs.

"I'm anxious to see how these guys are going to work in the offseason," he said. "Obviously it's very important that Jamie continues to work on his body, keeping himself in good shape.

"Andre, as we've seen this year when given the opportunities, can be really productive."

Harper dropped 20 pounds last offseason and came back quicker and more durable. Napier said he talked to Ellington recently about adding 5 or 6 pounds of muscle "to get ready for the toll and pounding his body will take throughout the year."

"These guys came here to do this," he said, "and they're both really good running backs."

Napier and Swinney are also high on McDowell, a freshman from Sumter who worked with the scout team this fall.

"He's put on a good bit of strength and muscle," Napier said.

Ellington played at Berkeley High in an offense similar to Clemson's, so his recognition in zone-blocking was more instinctive than even that of Spiller, a wing-T back in high school.

One area in which Ellington believes he needs to improve is pass blocking, but he's already thinking about taking a larger role next season.

"Each and every play I think about being a leader out there," he said. "The more experience you get, the better off you'll be in the long run.

"I felt like I contributed the best I can, but there's still a lot I can put out there on the table."

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