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2015 Clemson Football Season Preview: Running Backs

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Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

Most of the blame for the offensive struggles in the 2014 season has been heaped upon the quarterback position, and with good reason; however, some of that blame can also be placed upon the running game and the running backs. With the departures of Tajh Boyd and Roderick McDowell, the injury to Zac Brooks, and turnover on the offensive line, the running game went from a respectable 32nd in Rushing S&P+ and 21st in Adjusted Line Yards to a horrendous 107th and 101st, respectively. Obviously, some of that is on the offensive line, but the running backs deserve blame also. However, as Wayne Gallman started to come into his own in the second half of the season, the running game heated up. Will that carry over into the 2015 season?

Losses

DJ Howard is the only departing player. Howard was the starter at the beginning of the season, due to his seniority, but was unable to hold on to the gig. As the season wore on his role was increasingly diminished.

Player Year Ht Wt Stars Games Starts Rush Attempts Yards YPC TDs Rec Rec Yds Rec TDs Fumbles Fum. Lost
Wayne Gallman RS Sophomore 6'1 210 4 13 9 161 769 4.78 4 24 108 1 0 0
C.J. Davidson RS Senior 5'10 203 N/A 13 1 66 250 3.79 3 9 60 0 2 2
Adam Choice Sophomore 5'9 203 4 6 0 50 218 4.36 1 9 10 0 0 0
Tyshon Dye RS Sophomore 5'11 213 4 4 0 32 200 4.72 2 0 0 0 0 0
Zac Brooks RS Junior 6'0 200 4 RS

Wayne Gallman—Gallman became the starter at running back about halfway through the season, due to his own improvement, the injury to Adam Choice, and the struggles of DJ Howard and CJ Davidson. Gallman finished the regular season with the hot hand, capping it off with a strong performance against South Carolina, with 27 carries for 191 yards and 1 touchdown. Gallman showed improvement over the course of the season, and I expect him to continue to do so. He needs to work on his pass pro, and he still runs a bit too upright.

CJ Davidson—Davidson is an interesting prospect. He left the track team to join the football team and flashed some of his open field potential in 2013. It was clear that the coaches wanted to get him the ball in space and out on the edge. Unfortunately, Davidson regressed this past season. That was partially due to weight gain, leading to a diminished burst, but also to an outbreak of fumble-itis. Davidson had some awfully timed fumbles in the first few games of the season, and they cost him playing time. The word around camp is that Davidson has regained some burst and is challenging for the back-up slot, so here is to hoping for his return to form.

Adam Choice—Choice was inserted into a primary ball carrier position as Clemson tried to find a running game spark this past season. He got most of the carries as the offense tried to kill off Louisville. However, this highlighted some of his shortcomings. Choice seemed to lack a higher gear and appeared to be plodding around the field at times. Part of that might be due to unease with his new position (he was a high school QB). Against Boston College, it looked like the staff was finding new ways to get Choice involved, but, unfortunately, he tore his ACL on a play as a wildcat quarterback. Even though he has been participating in camp and scrimmages, I think Choice should redshirt the 2015 season to ensure that he’s fully healthy. Clemson has a lot of bodies at running back, so there is no point in risking an early return to the field.

Tyshon Dye—Ty-Dy has been one of the biggest mysteries around Clemson since his arrival in 2013. It was rumored that he was going to push Roderick McDowell for playing time before he suffered a back injury, forcing a redshirt. He then suffered a torn Achilles early in 2014 during winter workouts. Dye was able to see the field late in the season. It was mainly in mop-up duty, but he was the primary ball carrier against Georgia State with 20 carries for 124 yards and 2 touchdowns. Achilles tendon injuries are difficult to come back from and could ultimately be the reason Dye doesn’t live up to the hype. He has an intriguing blend of size, power, and speed, but the injury may have robbed him of that speed and explosiveness.

Zac Brooks—Brooks sustained a foot injury before the 2014 season, forcing him to miss the entire season. Brooks hasn’t quite developed into the player the staff hoped he would. Brooks is a good pass catcher, showing that with his great touchdown against Georgia. However, he still struggles too keep weight on and he runs too upright.

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CJ Fuller RS Freshman 5'9 211 3*

CJ Fuller—Fuller redshirted this past season, so he is technically a newcomer to the team. When Clemson was recruiting him, some believed he would find a home at defensive back. So far, Fuller has stuck with running back. He apparently has played well with 2nd and 3rd stringers in practice and scrimmages, so we will see if that translates to playing time in a crowded backfield. In fact, the word out of camp is that he has been tagged as the 3rd team running back. I am a tad skeptical about that, unless it means guys like Choice, Dye, and Brooks have not regained their pre-injury form.

While the Clemson running back corp lacks a true game changing player, Gallman is a solid and reliable lead back with decent depth options behind him. The wildcard in the group is Tyshon Dye and his relative health. The running backs are also dependent on Deshaun Watson and the offensive line. A healthy Watson will force the defense to keep two safeties deep, opening up the run game. If the offensive line truly struggles then the run game will hardly improve over last season. Clemson doesn’t need the run game to carry the team, but it does need it to be competent for 2015 to be a successful season.