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Monday, June 2, 2014
Will Clemson have another 1,000-yard back?

By Andrea Adelson

D.J. Howard
D.J. Howard, who rushed for 213 yards and two touchdowns last season, is atop Clemson's depth chart at running back.

There has been one near certainty on the Clemson offense under coach Dabo Swinney.

A running back will hit 1,000 yards.

It has happened in three straight seasons, and four of the five years Swinney has been in charge. So will it happen again in 2014, with what could be a running-back-by-committee approach?

"We certainly expect to," Swinney said during the ACC spring meetings. "Last year, Hot Rod (McDowell) became the guy, the year before it was (Andre) Ellington. We might be a little more diversified this year, but we’ll see how it all plays out. I know our overall production at the position is going to increase. Whether it’s one guy or a combination of guys that’s yet to be determined."

When Swinney released his summer depth chart last week, D.J. Howard was listed as the starter. But three more backs also are listed behind him -- Zac Brooks, C.J. Davidson and Wayne Gallman. A fifth, Tyshon Dye, is recovering from a torn Achilles tendon, but Swinney expects Dye to return at some point in the season, giving the Tigers five quality running backs that could all play. Not to mention three four-star running backs coming to Clemson for the fall.

"This is probably the best situation we’ve been in at running back in a long time," Swinney said. "That’s probably the area offensively we’re most excited about as coaches. We’ve got very good depth there. We’ve got a competitive, talented group that is going to pay good dividends for us this year."

Clemson and Baylor are only schools with 3,000-yard passer, 1,000-yard receiver and 1,000-yard rusher each of the last three season. But both Swinney and offensive coordinator Chad Morris believe they will get more production out of their running backs in 2014. They expected the same headed into last season, when Morris wanted his team to average 200 yards on the ground.

The Tigers did not quite get there for a few reasons. Swinney said a lot of times, run calls turned into pass calls, where they could reliably lean on Tajh Boyd. The Tigers also had to deal with a few injuries that limited their depth.

With Boyd gone and Cole Stoudt in as the starter at quarterback, more of the run calls will fall to the running backs. Backup quarterback Deshaun Watson can run as well and could be used in certain designed packages, but there is little doubt the Clemson coaches want to rely on their talented group of backs, starting in the opener against Georgia. Last season against the Bulldogs, Clemson racked up 197 yards on the ground -- its third-highest total against FBS competition on the season.

The Tigers hope for more of the same this season, on a weekly basis. But it might not translate into a 1,000-yard back. Back in 2010, the only season the Tigers did not produce a 1,000-yard rusher, Jamie Harper and Andre Ellington had similar rushing totals and combined for 1,446 yards.