CLEMSON—While thousands of Clemson fans are anxiously waiting for any nugget of information regarding the widely publicized quarterback battle, there is quietly another battle brewing—the battle for who will be the Tigers’ running back.
With last season starting running back, and one of the school’s most decorated and productive running backs in history, Wayne Gallman now with the NFL’s New York Giants after choosing to leave after his junior season, the focus is now fully on C.J. Fuller, Adam Choice, Tavien Feaster and true freshman Travis Etienne.
“They know what it takes to be the starter,” Elliott said. “That’s the positive—they saw Wayne do it for two years. They know the expectations at practice. They know the expectations to play. Now, we’ve just got to see who wants it the most in practice.”
And who emerges with the job will depend on who wants the job more.
“It’s really up to them. Right now, as we came out of spring—all three of those guys will play and play significantly,” running backs coach and co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said.
For a coach that has had the privilege of coaching the likes of All-ACC running backs Roderick McDowell (2013)—who finished his career with 1,025 rushing yards and 29 receptions and Andre Ellington (2012)—who became just the third running back in school history with two 1,000-yard rushing seasons, this season marks a first.
The first time the competition has been this good.
“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 too. He looks very, very natural back there.”
With no one player having yet to cement his place as the starter heading into fall camp, Elliott would love to have an “alpha dog” emerge and take over the role.
One of the players who has, seemingly had the light go off for them is Feaster.
The sophomore, who is easily the most heralded of the foursome, not only wears the number of one of the Tigers’ most dynamic running backs, C.J. Spiller—he drew comparisons to him coming out of high school.
But Feasters’ inability to protect the quarterback kept him sidelines for the majority of last season. However difficult pass protection was to analyze on the first day of practice, Feaster caught his coaches eye for the right reasons.
“Obviously, today we are just in helmets and shorts so everybody’s flying around. You can’t really see the physicality of it. Pass protection is very, very difficult to assess,” Elliott said. “I did notice he had a better sense of urgency. It looks like he is paying more attention to the little things. He is just growing up. He is maturing.”
Regardless of who wins the starting job, for Elliott his job is the same—to get this stable of talented running backs to understand the balance of discipline and natural ability.
“That is one of the hardest things for a running back—to have that level of detail prior to the line of scrimmage, and then letting your athleticism take over,” Elliott said.