No coaching staff is ever happy about losing a player the caliber of Travis Etienne. However, when your running back room is as deep and talented as Clemson’s is currently, it sure does make that loss a lot easier to live with.
The Tigers have one of the deepest groups of running backs in the country at the moment. And its a group not only littered with talent but also features just the right blend of experience and youth.
Lyn-J Dixon has patiently waited his turn and after playing a reserve role behind Etienne the past three seasons, is primed to become a much bigger part of the Clemson offense in 2021. Dixon is one of the two most experienced backs on the roster when it comes to pass protection, an area in which this coaching staff demands excellence in.
Darien Rencher is the other most experienced. Rencher is oftentimes the forgotten man in the group but the Tigers were fortunate to get him back for a sixth season. While he may not be competing for a starting spot, the coaches fully trust him in any situation. Not to mention he is arguably the most respected player in the locker room and you can’t put a value on the kind of leadership last years Disney Spirit Award winner brings to the table.
Then there is rising sophomore Kobe Pace and rising junior Chez Mellusi. Pace looked more than ready in Saturday’s spring game and Mellusi has shown glimpses of his potential over his first two seasons. Both figure to play big roles next season, with Pace quite possibly pushing Dixon for that spot atop the depth chart.
Then there are the two studs Clemson just signed as part of the 2021 recruiting class. Will Shipley was a five-star guy and the top all-purpose back in the country. Phil Mafah came in as a four-star, ranked in the top-ten among all running backs and a Top-200 player overall. Even scarier is the fact that Mafah was in all likelihood underrated due to everything being shut down over the past year. If he had the luxury of attending some the camps that normally take place, he would have probably been ranked higher.
“We’re blessed… we’re blessed with these young men that we have at running back,” Dabo Swinney said after Saturday’s spring game. “We love these guys. I mean, it’s a very talented room. Deep room, competitive room.”
Saturday’s spring game gave fans their first chance at seeing just how deep this stable of backs really is and Swinney was more than pleased with what he saw from the group. Kobe Pace was every bit as impressive as the coaches have said throughout the spring. He averaged over 11 YPC and racked up 50 yards on the games opening drive.
Dixon and Mafah both averaged over 6 YPC, and while he didn’t put up great numbers, Shipley absolutely looked the part from a physical standpoint. A player that versatile, and with his speed, it’s going to be hard to keep Shipley off the field.
“We got a lot of, you know, similar and unique skill sets,” Swinney said. “You saw all of that on display today. All those guys can make plays for us, so that’s definitely one of the deepest positions we have on the team, one of the most competitive and I think we’ve got a chance to be a pretty special group.”
With spring practice now over for the Tigers, the coaches will now go back and evaluate how each player performed over the past few weeks.
With so much talent, and so much competition, it would appear that no player has secured any specific spot on the depth chart just yet. When asked if it was going to be tough to name a starter at the position due to all the competition, Swinney said that is exactly what the coaching staff is hoping will happen
“I hope so, that would be great… hope it is hard, that would be great,” Swinney said. “We like it when it’s hard and very, very competitive. And we’ve got a bunch of talented guys… that makes everybody better.”