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2013 Position Analysis: Running Backs with Tony Elliott

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Tony Elliott was a WR at Clemson from 1999-2003 and a guy who came from a tough background who walked-on the team in 1999 and earned a scholarship as a starter during his later years. While Elliott was not a star, he was pretty clutch that last year in orange. He earned his degree in Engineering and went on to the normal world as an engineer at Michelin for two years, but came back to coaching at S.C. State. After that, he got the WR coaching job at Furman under Lamb, and while he was there I started to hear more good things about his recruiting ability, especially in Georgia. That ability, coupled with being a Clemson graduate, is why his name started coming up as a potential replacement on the Tiger staff a year before Dabo hired him to replace RB/ST coach Andre Powell, who would rather go fishing than call prospects.

The RB coach position is more of a recruiter than a coach, as the RB is the easiest spot on the field to coach.....a player either has it, or he doesnt. It is a position that is comparatively light on technique. As such, along with WR coach, this is the key offensive recruiting position on the staff. There is not much technique to teach a runner. Vision, speed, ability to cut and hit full speed instantly...these are things a player will just be gifted with. Drills can and do improve these gifts, however.

There is more than just running though, or just knowing which hole to hit. In zone running, there isn't even a defined hole to hit either, just an aim point. A RB must be taught to count blitzers to help the QB, know when to release and when not to, how to hold the football against his body, and how to block. Blocking is probably the #1 thing that a RB has to be taught in college, and most don't do it that well. Most Juniors who could leave for the NFL will be told by the Advisory Board that they should stay to perfect either their blocking or ability to catch the football. The routes that a back runs in passing sets are not high on technique, at least compared to other positions on the field, and are usually short stop routes, crosses, flares, or wheels. I think of a RB coach as a guy who just polishes a diamond finish. If you give him coal, he can't make the diamond. Many questioned hiring a WR coach as the new RB coach, but I do believe the fundamentals are largely the same, aside from some specific issues. In fact, most RB/WR coaches on staffs around the country have had experience coaching both positions.

When we evaluate the RB Coach we look at the following:

  • Recruiting, a primary responsibility
  • Rushing trends, keeping playcalling and OL performance in mind
  • Blocking
  • Ability to catch the ball out of the backfield
  • Fumbles/Turnovers

During the cycle he recruited parts of Atlanta, Tampa and SW Florida, and the low country, specifically his hometown of James Island and those areas surrounding Charleston up through Goose Creek/Summerville. These are all talent rich territories with dozens of prospects. From our friends in the HS coaching ranks, we hear that Elliott is a hard worker and does everything the right way, and keeps up with his prospects and the coaches in his area. He texts many of them with a personalized text after every Friday night result, win or lose.

I don't question his work ethic at all. He helped iwith Kearse, Alexander, Dye and Gallman for the '13 cycle. Unfortunately it doesn't seem like the results are there for Elliott in '14. We gave him credit for helping Chad Morris with CJ Fuller, and he and Venables got Korie Rogers. That is simply not enough from this staff spot and in these territories. Elliott has to pick this up.

2013 Clemson RB Rushing Statistics
Player Carries Gain Loss Net YPC TDs 10+ runs 20+ runs Long
Roderick McDowell 189 1073 48 1025 5.4 5 28 7 45
Zac Brooks 48 251 5 246 5.1 2 7 1 27
D.J. Howard 57 231 18 213 3.7 2 7 1 20
C.J. Davidson 34 156 1 155 4.6 4 4 1 22

C.J. Davidson is a walk-on who had impressive speed in spring and fall practice and who can be that scatback type of guy that is a necessary complementary player in this offense. He's a fairly tough runner but one who won't get his yards inside. He's suited to outside zones/jet sweeps and bucksweeps. I don't see enough mass to be a good blocker just yet, and you really don't see him on the field in those situations so it means that he's just not doing it in practice well at all. I would like to see him used in the passing game a little more with that speed on the edges, and I think given our RB depth this year, that we will see that.

I don't know what happened to D.J. Howard after his solid 2011 season, but he hasn't run as hard and has been so injured since then that he never reproduced the 5+ ypc he put up. He ran too upright and that hasn't been fixed, and he goes down easier than he did as a freshman. Every once in a while you'll see a flash of his ability but I would encourage him to look elsewhere or finish his time here as a student coach.

After his injury in the Maryland game Zac Brooks disappeared, but was on a good pace up until that point. He would probably have pushed for 450 yards on the season without getting banged up. Brooks has two problems: blocking and not enough weight. Thats why we felt he should've redshirted a year, but Dabo played him and only gave him 30 carries in '12. Clemson wanted to make him into a Darren McFadden-type, but my memory doesn't recall Joey ever putting that kind of good weight on anyone. The blocking will probably get better as the weight goes upwards, but was improving. If he isn't spending every day with the nutritionist and in the weight room then we may have a real problem here in '14.

Hot Rod finally had his year to shine and if we had ever given the ball to our RBs instead of running Tajh, he'd probably have 1400+ yards. In all 3 games where he registered 20 carries, he netted over 100 yards and his YPC was consistently good all season. I just don't see why he wasn't given the ball more. He ran all over Georgia and SC. FSU hits as hard as any of them and he still put up 61 on 11 carries. He took the hits and jumped right back up. His blocking was solid, as was his receiving, and turnovers were no problem.

With McDowell leaving, the top spot is open. Tyshon Dye was expected to take this, but with the back and now a torn achilles, I don't know if he can. I am quite sure that with the Larry Bowman school of medicine working on him, he's going to come back and play whether he should or not. Wayne Gallman is the other big back coming off RS and hopefully he can take the beating, but if neither of them can block then they may still be a liability on the field.

If Oglesby and Fuller make it in, they'll be scatback options in their first year, unless they redshirt. Both need weight for college. Adam Choice is a HS option QB with the right size to play now, but hasn't been taught receiving or blocking and should RS as well.


All RBs have to work on blocking technique. Most are going to always be at a size disadvantage as blockers and must focus on proper inside leverage technique and effort. As our offense is now spread formation, with usually only 5 linemen to protect, and since we threw the ball 30-40 times each game, their blocking acumen becomes more apparent. This points to a need for bigger backs that can do a little more than chip DEs.

Hot Rod doesn't excel here, but he does the job well enough that he was rarely the reason that Tajh got nailed. Brooks still needs a lot of work on sticking the defender and sacrificing himself to make the hit. If he gains weight I think he'll be fine. Howard can do the job about the same as McDowell, but was oft-injured.

I'm hoping one of the bigger backs has this figured out so we can play them. No one is going to get a ton of carries in this offense if he can't block.


These guys are hurt here by Tajh Boyd's preference for taking the deep ball or running himself instead of using his check downs, but it bears mentioning that they do stay in to block pretty often, or at least release late. McDowell went from 3 receptions in 2012 to 29 in 2013. Big improvement for him personally, and an improvement over the 14 receptions AE finished with in 2012. Brooks went from 3 to 6, missing basically every game since Maryland, which for a guy who was rated by some services as a WR just doesn't cut it. DJ Howard had 8 receptions for 123 yards.

We identified this as one area where we could stand improvement after 2012 and it did, but I think Zac Brooks really needs to raise his game in this area.


Clemson lost 7 fumbles in 2012, up to 12 this year, but they are not all by the RB position. Overall I think we've become pretty consistent here in how we hold the football. Hot Rod does it well. Zac Brooks holds it loose sometimes but he's much better at it than he was as a freshman. There is the good possibility that throwing freshmen out there at RB in 2014 leads to more fumbles lost next year.

The Verdict

As stated, this is more of a recruiter's position on a staff and someone who polishes a diamond finish, not someone who can make diamond out of coal. That said we were still fairly happy with the RB position, I think they do the best they can with the playcalling they're given and the talent they have. Chad's playcalling tendencies have to be taken into account as a major factor why we don't end up with more rushing yards, because he definitely quits with the running game at times, or has his QB run it by design too often. Now we have two more RBs for Elliott to work on and we'll see how he develops this group further. Much of Brooks' development still needs to be in the weight room, i.e., Batson.

We see recruiting as somewhere that Elliott needs to improve. He's in too many good areas not to pull more players. I think he should be on Jeff Scott's level as a recruiter.