Looking at the running back position as we head into the 2019 season.
It’s hard to look at the Clemson Football program as it heads into the coming season and find an area that could possibly be a concern. With the transfer of senior running back Tavien Feaster, depth at the running back position may be one.
Obviously the Tigers have preseason Heisman contender Travis Etienne back, as well as rising sophomore Lyn J Dixon. However, behind them are a lot of unknowns. In the past the team has preferred to use a combination of three running backs, but this season that may not be the case.
Atop the depth chart is one of the nation’s best backs, Travis Etienne. Last season he rushed for a school record 1658 yards on 204 carries, earning ACC Player of the Year and ACC Offensive Player of the Year honors. He was named to multiple All American teams and was a Doak Walker Award finalist and a Maxwell Award semifinalist.
Everyone knows what Etienne is capable of. He’s one of the most explosive backs in the country and rarely goes down on first contact. He’s averaging 7.8 yards per carry over his career, best in school history. He comes into 2019 needing 1542 yards to break Raymond Priester’s all time rushing record.
If there’s one area Etienne could use improvement, it’s his pass catching. He’s not shown himself to have the softest of hands in his first two seasons. His pass blocking has improved dramatically since his early days but he could still be better in that area
Lyn J Dixon will back Etienne up after serving as the fourth back during his freshman season. Dixon played in 13 games last season, totaling 62 carries and 547 yards.
Dixon has added some bulk to his frame in the offseason, which will help with his increased workload. He did average close to nine yards a carry last year, but it’s worth noting a lot of that yardage came late in games, when he was fresh and the defenses were not.
It was still easy to see the talent however. There’s a lot of potential there but he needs to learn to run lower, and like most backs going into their sophomore campaigns, will need to improve with his pass blocking.
Headed into camp, former walk on Darien Rencher will get first crack at that third spot. The rising junior appeared in seven games last season and carried the ball 15 times for 65 yards. In his career, he’s got 24 carries for 103 yards. He’s spent a lot of time on the scout team in previous years, so he does come in with a good grasp of the offense as well as the blocking assignments.
Behind him are two true freshman, Chez Mellusi and Michael Dukes. Neither player enrolled early, putting both behind the eight ball. They’re going to have a lot thrown at them and will need to soak up as much as they can and as quickly as they can.
Both guys played in an offense in high school that required their backs to do some pass blocking, so that’s something that won’t begin foreign to them as they get started. Both will get opportunities to earn playing time. How much remains to be seen. Can one or both overtake Rencher for that third spot is another thing to keep an eye on as the season gets underway.
Over the last few seasons, this football team hasn’t had to deal with a ton of injuries. Keeping Etienne and Dixon both healthy will be of major importance. Having to rely on a true freshman or Darien Rencher as the number two running back would be less than ideal. An injury to either player could actually be disastrous.
This is an offense designed to run the ball. Everyone knows what Travis Etienne is capable of. If teams come out putting an emphasis on stopping the passing game, Etienne could be in store for a monster season. The kind that could put him firmly in Heisman contention, and the kind that could see him leaving Clemson as the Tigers all time leader in rushing yards.