Friday, March 21, 2014 11:56 AM
Howard healthy and excited for upcoming season
by David Hood
Senior Writer

CLEMSON – D.J. Howard has battled injuries and inconsistency during his Clemson career, but he says he is finally healthy and ready to contribute.

Howard was highly-rated coming out of the state of Alabama in high school, one of two running backs recruited by the Tigers for the 2010 recruiting cycle, along with Demont Buice. Both redshirted in 2010, and Buice lasted just a little while longer before transferring to a smaller school.

Howard has logged 439 snaps during his three-year career, and has averaged 4.4 yards per carry while serving as a backup. Along the way, he has battled the nagging types of injuries that have kept him from practice and from earning significant playing time.

He says that is all in the past, and has been getting first team reps during the early portion of camp.

“If you miss practice, you’ve missed another day to get better,” Howard said after one of Clemson’s spring practices. “I have been working hard, and I am excited about the 2014 season. I can’t wait to get the show started.“

He said he also likes the fact that he finally feels 100 percent.

“I am healthy. I am actually excited and I can’t wait for the fall to get here,” Howard said. “I am really excited about this year, and I feel like a lot of big things are going to happen. I think we are moving in the right direction.”

Howard said he looked at film of his first three seasons, and it didn’t take long to realize that while he has a bruising style, that wasn’t enough to keep him on the field. As a result, he worked on becoming better at his entire game.

“I am working on my flexibility and strength right now,” he said. “Making those cuts that I have been struggling with. And, staying healthy. I’ve been hitting the weight room pretty hard so I can prevent those injuries. “

As the “old man” in his group, he also is taking more of the leadership role that was occupied by Andre Ellington and Roderick McDowell over the last few seasons and making sure that the bevy of younger players stay in the right frame of mind.

“I’ve seen a lot of faces go. I came up with some of the best,” Howard said. “Andre (Ellington), Jamie Harper, Tajh (Boyd) and all of those guys. This year, it is all about keeping them encouraged. It’s easy to lose sight or become homesick, really easy as a young guy. The main thing is just keeping those guys encouraged and hungry.

“I don’t like seeing my other running backs discouraged. If I see one of them having a bad day, I am going to do something to pick them up, and let them know it’s going to be alright. You’ve got to keep positive for them.”

Howard says that while he has spent the first three years of his career as backup, that doesn’t mean he has to be a backup during his senior season, and that he has something the rest of the running backs don’t have.

“Experience. That is the obvious. Experience and knowledge,” he said. “I am able to read the defense, maybe a little better than the other guys, because I have been here longer. We all have things we bring to the table, and I think I bring experience. We are all athletic and we can all make plays. I just have that experience.”

David Hood can be reached at davidhood@tigernet.com