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Fall Camp Preview
From 2014-2016, Clemson enjoyed the services of Wayne Gallman as the workhorse RB. Gallman took over as the starter after Adam Choice tore his ACL midseason 2014. Gallman would get better and better with each game, and more importantly, develop a level of toughness that made him an All-ACC caliber back in 2015 and 2016. Gallman was great in our zone-running scheme and developed a formula of pressing one hole, cutting, and slamming his body into another. This formula made up for his lack of vision and allowed Clemson to virtually guarantee positive yardage on every running play. Also a strength for Gallman was his blocking as the personal protector for Deshaun and also on QB lead plays. He was able to deliver some Tracy Johnson quality blocks at times that sprang Watson on the edge.
In a post-Gallman world last year, Clemson was left without a feature back and instead, turned to a committee approach. C.J. Fuller was the heir apparent and began the year as the starter. Fuller was the best blocker of the committee, but as a ball carrier, he proved to be the 4th best out of the 4 RBs. Tavien Feaster took over as the primary RB when he was able to show, with added weight, he had improved his toughness in both blocking and toting the rock. He took over the starting job with a 92 yard performance against Louisville. However, it was also against Louisville when all of our jaws were dropped by a ridiculous display of acceleration by Travis Etienne in garbage time. It was on that long TD run when all doubt was removed about who the best RB was with the ball in his hands.
The next week against Boston College, Feaster would step into the feature back role and get a career high 20 carries in the game. However, at the end of the 3rd quarter, Clemson found themselves in a tie game against an inferior opponent with an offense that could do little. Enter ETN. Etienne came in and got 9 carries. With those carries he rushed for 113 yards and 2 TDs to lead Clemson to victory. Unfortunately, ETN proved to be a major liability as a blocker and could not be trusted as the feature back. Therefore, we were back to the committee approach with ETN getting a couple more carries per game. Fuller departed after the season, while the trio of Feaster, ETN, and Choice all return in 2018.
Fall Camp Depth Chart
Travis Etienne, Tavien Feaster, Adam Choice, Lyn-J Dixon, Ty Thomason, Darien Rencher
The depth chart heading into fall camp doesn’t mean a whole lot considering that the top 3 RBs are all known commodities and are all expected to play and tote the rock.
Etienne was listed as the starter post-spring which alludes to him improving his blocking in the offseason. I definitely did not see functional improvement in the spring game. He has probably improved from an assignment standpoint, but he still missed blocks and got shed in the spring game. He is far and away the best RB with the ball in his hands though and the staff could choose to hide some of his blocking deficiencies by having him swing out in the flat as a safety valve more often and also leaving the TE to block.
The staff will want to get a look at Dixon in fall camp, although both Thomason and Rencher are serviceable backs that could fill in if one of the top 3 got hurt. For that reason, I would like to see Dixon redshirt if he is unable to block well. I would like to see Thomason, a 230 pounder who can block, get an opportunity to win the #4 job.
Season Depth Chart
Travis Etienne, Tavien Feaster, Adam Choice, Ty Thomason, Darien Rencher, Lyn-J Dixon (redshirt)
I think anybody who has seen ETN play would be in favor of him getting more carries than either Feaster or Choice. He is a TD waiting to happen. As a true freshman, he scored a TD every 8.23 carries. I expect ETN to get 12-15 carries per game this season. Feaster and Choice could both be listed at #2 and I expect them to function that way with each guy getting 4 to 7 carries per game.
Last year, in obvious passing situations, the staff would bring in C.J. Fuller to protect KB. As I have said before, I think the staff should keep that role alive again this year and plug in Thomason for Fuller. His beef and toughness in the backfield can be a real advantage when we get blitzed in 4 WR sets.
The Kraken Depth Chart
Travis Etienne, Tavien Feaster, Adam Choice, Ty Thomason, Darien Rencher, Lyn-J Dixon (redshirt)
Since RBs usually show the most improvement from their freshman to sophomore year, I anticipate a big year for ETN. The 7.13 yards per carry will probably go down, but the overall production should go way up with a 50% increase in number of carries. Much like what I said about Trevor Lawrence, we need ETN healthy and ready to go against the best teams on our schedule. You might remember that ETN was able to do some things against Alabama but knocked himself out on a block in the 1Q and didn’t return until the 3Q. I think the only time we moved the ball on offense was with him in the game and getting carries.
I think Dixon should redshirt as we don’t really need him this year and, as of last fall, he could use some power hour to fill out that frame. He and Chez Mellusi should both get an opportunity to crack the 3 deep next year and they both probably will if Feaster decides to leave early.
Spring Preview 2018
Wayne Gallman was the featured back at Clemson from mid 2014 to 2016. He was a physical grinder that always seemed to be able to get positive yardage. He was an All-ACC caliber RB and, like every skill position on offense heading into 2017, would be tough to replace.
Dabo decided in the spring of 2017 that the staff was planning to go with a “RB by Committee” strategy in 2017. Gallman’s primary backup, C.J. Fuller would be the defacto starter. Tavien Feaster added size and toughness to his arsenal and both he and true freshman Travis Etienne outplayed Fuller starting with game 1. Feaster became the starter by game 4, but the major news at the RB position was the game-breaking performance of Etienne on a weekly basis. ETN was the best pure RB on the roster, but was still learning pass protection and playbook assignments.
Adam Choice showed that he had also improved and seemed to have the spring in his step he possessed before he injured his ACL in 2014. By the end of the year, Feaster and Etienne carried the mail most often with Choice getting a series or two as well. Fuller became a designated pass protector in obvious passing situations.
C.J. Fuller, who went from starting to 4th string over the course of the season, decided to transfer out of the program this offseason. The Tigers signed 4-Star RB Lyn-J Dixon to replace Fuller. He will arrive in the fall and won’t be here for spring drills.
Tavien Feaster and Travis Etienne
The RB position battle should be pretty uneventful at the top. Feaster and Etienne are locked in as the primary ball carriers. Their goals this spring are to be healthy for the season and improve in aspects of their game. I’m sure Tony Elliot will have shortcomings pointed out and things to work on for both. I’d like to see Feaster continue to get tougher, improve his vision, and get better at setting guys up on the edge. I’d like to see Etienne get better at blocking.
We all know this, but I’ll post it anyway. As soon as Etienne can be trusted in blocking and execution, he is going to get the majority of the carries in meaningful snaps. Etienne is still in the process of transforming his body and I expect him to make the same kind of leap that Gallman and Feaster made by the time Fall Camp rolls around.
It seems like Choice is a year or two younger than he is. Choice is entering his Senior year at Clemson as the clear #3 RB heading into spring. It is doubtful that Choice will challenge for the #1 or #2 spot and doubtful that he will be challenged for the #3 until Dixon arrives in the fall.
Choice has good acceleration, but average straight line speed for a RB. He reminds me of Reggie Merriwether. He’s a guy that has better players ahead of him, but can get hot and do some serious damage in spurts. He should be getting a couple series per game and reprise his role as “the closer.”
It would be a great story if Choice was still healing and there was an extra gear he could find that made him our starter next season, but that is unlikely. I’d like to see Choice get better in all aspects of how he performs in the passing game and carrying the ball on the edge. If Feaster or Etienne were to be injured at some point next year, it is much better for us if we have a guy that can be more than an inside runner when we need him to.
Darien Rencher, Ty Thomason
The spring can be tough on running backs, and often, a RB or two will get nicked up along the way and miss practice time. With that in mind, and only 3 scholarship RBs participating in spring drills, Rencher and Thomason should get every opportunity to show what they can do. They are in position this spring to make the most of that opportunity, inspire confidence in the staff, earn a scholarship, and allow the staff to redshirt Lyn-J Dixon. In other words, this is going to be their moment in the sun. Both guys are from the upstate. Rencher went to T.L. Hanna and Thomason went to Eastside.
As a true freshman, Rencher excelled in probably the toughest role in college football, scout team RB. Things may have changed recently from a safety standpoint, but the scout team running back usually takes a beating. Rencher was the scout team player of the year in 2016 and appeared in 3 games last year as the 5th string RB. He’s a redshirt sophomore and has a running style very similar to C.J. Fuller.
Thomason is the “big back” at 5’10/ 225. He has more acceleration than I thought he would have and was able to get the edge in the spring game a couple of times last year. He switched from WR to RB last spring. In the 2017 season, he carried the ball 5 times for 37 yards in two games. He is intriguing to me because 1) we could make use of his size at RB, 2) he knows WR and can go 5 Wide, and 3) he could be an effective lead blocker/ pass protector for Kelly Bryant.
Rencher and Thomason should get a lot of reps this spring and I think both of these guys have a chance to earn a scholarship with a good performance. They are both solid organizational depth at a position that could get really thin with an injury to either ETN or Feaster.
2017 Fall Camp Preview
RB Fall Camp Depth Chart
C.J. Fuller, Tavien Feaster, Adam Choice and Travis Etienne
In the post-Gallman backfield, opportunities will be more plentiful. It’s Fuller’s job to lose this fall, although, I expect all four to get 1st and 2nd team reps throughout camp (which is normal). Ty Thomason and Darien Rencher will probably get reps with the 1st and 2nd team as well.
Mission #1 in fall camp is to get Fuller and Feaster ready to play while keeping them healthy. Mission #2 is to evaluate Travis Etienne and determine if he should be in the rotation or redshirt. I think Etienne has the ability to take the RB competition up another level provided he is a proficient blocker. Mission #3 is to determine the rotation from a snaps and a situational standpoint. Unlike the past two years when Gallman was so far ahead of the others, we now have the ability to have fresh legs out there at all times.
RB Season Depth Chart
I believe that Etienne has the most natural gifts as a runner with the ball in his hands. There are a few attributes outside of running the rock that will determine whether or not he plays or not. Can/Will he block? Can he learn the playbook and execute his assignment? Does he have ball security? What is his actual weight? I think that with every passing day this season, Etienne will get better and I would not rule out him being the featured RB by November. That is, provided the answer to those questions above allow for him to be considered for such a role.
Fuller has gotten bigger, faster, and stronger since the 2016 season and improved his vision issues. I expect to see the best version of him that we have seen so far. Feaster displayed a higher level of toughness in the spring, however, with his injury history in high school, I have questions about his durability. I have no questions about his speed and athleticism. He is a home run threat with the best upside of any of the RBs. Adam Choice has improved his vision as well and he always runs with aggression. Through no fault of his own though, I believe Etienne will steal reps from Choice immediately just because they need to see him. No matter who starts or what the rotation is, the competition at RB is about to go up and that is good thing.
The Kraken Depth Chart
C.J. Fuller or Tavien Feaster or Travis Etienne, Adam Choice.
If it were up to me from the outside looking in, I would prepare these guys for a 3 headed monster attack at RB. I would not necessarily use them for an entire series like we have in the past. I would use them situationally.
I would use Fuller in passing situations and more against teams that are susceptible to attack through the air. I would use Etienne more against teams that are susceptible to our zone based running attack. I believe our OL is going to generate more running lanes this year and Etienne has the best vision to find them. With Feaster, I want him in there to get loose and go the distance. I want him in there after our defense forces a 3 and out and at the end of every quarter. I want him to break a tackle and get big gains. I want the opponent’s defense to have to account for his speed when they are tired and chase him side to side. If you wanted to keep Choice happy, he could even be the closer that comes in fresh in the 4Q and finishes games out. That’s just me thinking out loud though. The RB with the best ball security should be that guy.
Is there a more apt nickname for a Tiger player than “The Wayne Train.” In the past two years, we have seen Wayne Gallman transform from a soft scat-back with poor vision into a Marshawn Lynch/Cedric Benson style bruiser that seems to get better every game. Gallman will slam his body into the opposition and uses his forward momentum to keep his legs moving and gets valuable yards after contact. He’s a pile mover and it’s glorious. This allows the offense to stay on schedule and maintain the threat of both the run and the pass on 2nd and 3rd down.
The improvement on the offensive line played a big part in Clemson’s efficiency running the ball, but there was a noticeable dropoff when Gallman went out of the game. So he played a lot. Enduring car wreck after car wreck took it’s toll and the lack of a bye week probably factored in as well. The week after a hard-fought Florida State game, at Syracuse, is when Gallman’s body waved the white flag. Gallman would miss the end of the Syracuse game and the Wake Forest game before returning for the South Carolina game. In that game, he still wasn’t himself and it wouldn’t be until the playoffs that we saw Gallman at 100% again.
Gallman needs to spelled and we need an option at RB that can both run and block on a high level so that we can give him a break. If the spring game is any indication, Adam Choice is ready for the role. I could not have been more impressed with Choice in the spring game. As I said in the film review, he was better on film than he was watching live. He is a one cut, physical bowling ball with very good vision. Choice, while not quite on Gallman’s level yet, is also a solid blocker in pass protection and he has the center of gravity to stone a lot of blitzing LBs.
The one thing we are losing from 2015 to 2016 is a proven receiver out of the backfield at RB. Zac Brooks filled that role last year and was so good at it in limited playing time, he got drafted by the Seahawks. Coach Swinney has challenged Gallman to become a better pass catching threat out of the backfield. When Gallman’s in the game, we want the defense to have to account for him as a receiver out of the backfield. That’s one more thing to think about (as if we don’t have enough things for them to worry about already). Gallman did improve in this area at the end of the year last year and I thought he looked great doing it in the spring game. I think he’s ready for a bigger role in the passing game.
If the coaches determine he’s not dependable, that would the door for Tavien Feaster to assume more of a 3rd down back role. I think Feaster is going to be a swiss army knife player in his first year where he will have a package of a few plays that will get him out in space. Feaster is not a tough runner like the rest of the RBs, but he will be the fastest RB as soon as he steps on campus. Feaster is in the same mold of the Bellamy/Spiller/Ellington/McCloud type back that we have had here before, but he will have to conquer his fear of getting hit and put on weight to be an every down RB.
If anything should happen to Choice, extended reps would be available for either Tyshon Dye or C.J. Fuller. At the end of the season last year, I thought that Fuller was in teh process of locking down the #2 RB role. I don’t think that’s the case now and he appeared to have regressed. His vision in the spring game was just bad. He missed a number of opportunities and I wonder if something was wrong with him. When Fuller is on, like the South Carolina game last year, he reminds me of Reggie Meriwether. I’m hoping that in the spring he was just, to use a baseball analogy, “trying out a new pitch” in the spring game and that pitch was getting north/south as fast as he could. That’s what it looked like to me.
It’s been a long three plus years at Clemson for Tyshon Dye. Outside of that initial fall camp where his legend was born, he has spent most of his time here either trying to recover from injury or find a running style that fits him post-injuries. Now, two years removed from those injuries, he should be where he is going to be athletically. Adam Choice is younger and has likely passed him up on the depth chart. Depending on what happens in fall camp, Dye could have to accept a role as organizational depth or transfer out of the program. Clemson offers graduate work in his major of parks, recreation, and tourism, so he doesn’t have to leave. He could stay and finish out his career as a fail safe option if there are injuries at the position.
If it were me, when the season begins, I would give each of the four RBs a series. The RB rotation would look something like this: Gallman, Gallman, Choice, Gallman, Choice, Gallman, Dye, Gallman, Gallman, Choice, Gallman, Choice, Gallman, Fuller. Obviously, when the game is out of hand, Gallman would be taken out. Also, I anticipate spot play from Feaster as well and I expect to see him at the 2WR position at some point also.
The current state of the Running Back position at Clemson is great. Wayne Gallman is a bonafide star now and will probably leave after this season for the NFL. Adam Choice, the man that beat Gallman out two years ago, is back and better than ever. C.J. Fuller showed a lot of potential at the end of last season and Tyshon Dye could step in and play at a competent level should Choice or Gallman get hurt. World class speedster Tavien Feaster is going to be added to the mix this fall and should likely avoid a redshirt and contribute as a freshman. By my count, that’s 5 total RBs including 1 stud RB, 3 RBs competent in both running and blocking, and 1 athletic freak coming in. We too deep. RB position grade: A
Kraken Depth Chart if the season started today:
- Wayne Gallman
- Adam Choice
- Tyshon Dye or C.J. Fuller
Incoming: Tavien Feaster, 4-Stars
Early look at 2017: The Wayne Train will have likely left the station for a one way trip to the NFL. So we will have an epic 5 man battle royale for the top spot. The earlier favorite for the starting spot would be Adam Choice. However, the two highly touted incoming talents, Tavien Feaster and Cordarrian Richardson could surprise and sneak in there and position themselves for major reps in a two-headed monster type backfield. Then again, Fuller and Dye will be grown men by that point and have better knowledge of the playbook and their responsibilities.