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Offseason spotlight: Clemson

3/11/2014

Spotlight: Running backs.

2013 summary: After losing back-to-back 1,000-yard rusher Andre Ellington, the big question headed into 2013 was whether Roderick McDowell and his teammates could fill such big shoes. McDowell carried much of the running game on his shoulders, rushing for more than 1,000 yards in the final season of his career. But beyond McDowell, the Tigers had a tough time keeping their running backs healthy. Zac Brooks and D.J. Howard dealt with injuries, forcing McDowell into becoming the workhorse running back. He ended up with 189 carries, while Brooks and Howard combined for 105. Quarterback Tajh Boyd ended up ranking second on the team with 400 yards on 154 carries.

The skinny: The Tigers have now had four 1,000-yard rushers in the last five seasons. Will the trend continue? Interestingly enough, coaches believe Clemson could eclipse its rushing total from a year ago without a 1,000-yard back. That is how confident they feel about the depth in this group -- if everybody stays healthy. Howard has looked good early on in spring practice, and he comes into this season in a similar spot to McDowell a year ago -- a senior hoping for his final shot to prove himself.

Brooks, meanwhile, leads all returning rushers with 246 yards and has the best hands of the group. That was evident last season in the opener against Georgia, in which he had a key 31-yard touchdown reception. C.J. Davidson brings intrigue, too. The former track and field star from nearby Daniel High -- which produced DeAndre Hopkins -- has a burst that sets him apart. Coach Dabo Swinney says Davidson might have the best breakaway speed of any of the backs.

Then there is redshirt freshman Wayne Gallman, who has the potential to win the starting job. Offensive coordinator Chad Morris said Gallman is "probably as dynamic and electric a back as I've seen. He can turn speed to power so fast." Redshirt freshman Tyshon Dye also could enter the mix when he returns from an Achilles' injury in the fall.

Given the talent and depth, Clemson could end up with more of a running-back-by-committee approach this season. And don't forget about the possibility of a dual-threat quarterback such as Chad Kelly or Deshaun Watson winning the starting job. Clemson could end up in a better spot with its run game this year despite not having a clear-cut No. 1 back in spring drills.