After losing leading rusher Roderick McDowell, the Tigers still return a deep stable of talented yet unproven running backs. Returning players include Senior D.J. Howard, Juniors C.J. Davidson and Zac Brooks, Redshirt Freshmen Wayne Gallman and Tyshon Dye, and True Freshmen Adam Choice and C.J. Fuller. The offense is expected to rely on the running game this year with the loss of a number of key offensive players as well as the lack of depth on the offensive line. Running Backs coach Tony Elliott wants to have a strong "stable" of running backs this year. He compared his desired "stable" to that of Alabama that has had its fair share of productive running backs over the last decade.
While it is currently a toss-up at the running back position, here is the current pecking order for the running game.
Starter- D.J. Howard: As the lone senior and leader of this group and with the departure of Roderick McDowell, D.J. Howard is expected to be the lead back for Coach Tony Elliott's "stable" of running backs. Coach Elliott has stated that he wants Howard to "take his starting chance and run with it." This shows that the coaching staff has a lot of confidence in Howard and want to see him become the lead back for the Tigers' offense. Howard has had an injury plagued career so far at Clemson even though he has shown flashes of his potential at times.
2. C.J. Davidson: A former walk-on and track star, C.J. Davidson enters his junior year looking for touches in the Clemson running game. Davidson is very athletic which is a major plus for running backs. His athletic ability allowed him to be a standout on the Clemson Track and Field team. Used only sparingly during his first year of eligibility with only two carries, Davidson saw his playing time increase a bit in 2013 with 34 carries albeit against mostly weak competition. C.J. has shown glimpses of explosiveness during the Spring Game and during practices. Look for him to challenge D.J. Howard, Zac Brooks, and Wayne Gallman for touches and to get plenty of opportunities to be a contributor this year in the running game.
3. Wayne Gallman: After redshirting his first year, Wayne Gallman has placed himself firmly in the rotation of running backs with a strong showing during practices and during the Spring Game. Gallman led all running backs in rushing during the Spring Game with 61 total yards on the ground including a 27 yard run. Gallman has impressed Dabo and Co. during practices. He brings a combination of size(6'1", 205) and speed that will be challenging for opposing defenses to defend. Right now Gallman is lower in the pecking order than the more experienced backs Howard, Brooks, and Davidson but he has a chance to work himself up the ladder by the end of the season. Gallman still has a lot to prove as he will only be a redshirt freshman this fall but many feel he has a chance to be something special and be in the ranks of elite running backs that Clemson has fielded including Andre Ellington and C.J. Spiller.
Tyshon Dye: Redshirt freshman Tyshon Dye is coming off an Achilles injury suffered during Spring practice. He will likely make a return at some point this season. Dye is a very talented runner but injuries have held him back so far in his career.
Incoming Freshmen: The Tigers also have incoming freshmen C.J. Fuller and Adam Choice. C.J. Fuller was originally going to grayshirt, but when Jae'lon Oglesby failed to academically qualify and went to Fork Union Prep instead of joining this class, it allowed Fuller to skip the grayshirt year immediately. Dabo Swinney has spoken very highly of Choice and with the Zac Brooks injury, we'll almost certainly see some of him this year. Choice runs low to the ground and is one of the heavier backs on the roster. Cross your fingers, maybe he'll be the bruiser we've been looking for.
Also watch out for preferred walk-on freshman Kurt Fleming. Fleming will be a 23 year old freshman this year after spending two years playing minor league baseball in the Atlanta Braves farm system. Fleming showed flashes in the Spring Game with 61 yards on the ground including a 49 yard run.
Zac Brooks (Out for season): The rising junior is probably the best "all around" back of the group. Brooks possesses the best receiving abilities out of all the running backs on the roster and has the versatility to do many things on the field for the offense. Like Howard the problem for Brooks during his Clemson career has been staying healthy. Brooks has also had trouble keeping his weight up. Brooks is up to 200 pounds this season which is a bit heavier than he has played in the past. Brooks is a very physical runner with great pass catching abilities. Unfortunately, on Monday, August 18th we learned that Zac Brooks was lost for the season due to a foot injury. He'll now take a medical redshirt.
This is a very deep group of running backs, and like I stated earlier, I look for the offense to rely on the ground game a lot this year to offset the losses in the passing game as well as the lack of depth and losses on the offensive line. While this is still a very unproven group, I look for a few to emerge from this group especially that the running game will be more prevalent this year than in years past.
With those four listed above as the top running backs on the depth chart, the Tigers still have plenty of talented running backs behind those guys.