Clemson loses Mellusi, but there is depth and talent at running back spot
|Monday, April 26, 2021, 3:01 PM- -|
The transfer portal strikes again.
The news broke around noon Monday that running back Chez Mellusi decided to enter the transfer portal and look for playing time elsewhere. The bad news is that Mellusi is a capable running back who has had two seasons in the system and has proved that he can be a valuable part of the backfield rotation.
The good news is that the Tigers still have six scholarship running backs that they can depend on entering the 2021 season, with three youngsters making major strides this spring. It’s likely that the trio of younger players – Kobe Pace, Phil Mafah, and Will Shipley – contributed to Mellusi’s decision to transfer. With those three, the Tigers have veterans in Lyn-J Dixon, Darien Rencher, and Michel Dukes on hand.
Mellusi ends his Clemson career with 427 rushing yards and six touchdowns on 71 carries and five catches for 38 yards and a receiving touchdown in 169 career snaps over 21 games. He rushed 24 times for 151 yards and three touchdowns and caught five passes for 38 yards and a receiving touchdown in 88 snaps over 10 games. However, he had 44 carries for 276 yards (6.78 ypc) in 12 games in 2019.
I have been hoping to do a post-spring thoughts piece on each position group, and part of my delay has been because of the transfer portal. My thought process was that most of the players would want to start to enroll in new schools by the start of the summer semesters and would need time to make those decisions. That gave me May 1 as a sort of drop-dead date for writing the thought pieces.
When the news first broke, I had two or three people text me to mention Mafah and Shipley as the reasons for the Mellusi decision, but I quickly pointed out that it was the emergence of Pace this spring that might have had the bigger impact. Why? Because Mellusi was third-string for most of last season behind starter Travis Etienne and second-stringer Dixon.
Etienne graduated and it was safe to assume that Dixon and Mellusi would each take a step up on the depth chart heading into the spring. And then Pace blew all of that up and he took the first snaps with his Orange team during the spring game earlier this month. Running backs coach CJ Spiller has said that he doesn’t have a depth chart on paper, but you better believe he has one in his head and that depth chart either has Dixon and Pace as options 1 and 1A – pick whichever you want as 1 – or Pace could even be the starter.
Spiller compared Pace to former Georgia Bulldog and current Cleveland Brown Nick Chubb.
"Kobe is a sophomore. Second year in system. Running style very unique. If you wanted to compare it, kind of say that Nick Chubb type of comparison,” Spiller said. “Big back with power but he has the speed. I've been very pleased with what he's done so far. He still has a long way to go. He took the right strides from Year 1 and Year 2. To me, that's what you always want to see as a coach. In the NFL, that's what guys always want to see— the jump guys make from Year 1 to Year 2, and he's made a tremendous jump so far. He has to continue to work and he knows that."
Mellusi missed time this spring and that allowed Pace and the freshmen in Shipley and Mafah to spend a lot of time in front of the coaches. Both impressed, but Spiller said both still need to develop.
"Both Will and Phil have looked great so far. They are just freshmen so they are going to make mistakes along the way because it's a new system,” Spiller said. “Will didn't have chance to play high school ball last fall, so take into account that he hasn't played ball in over a year. So you have to just be careful with him and make sure he comes along properly.
"Phil has looked awesome. He's as good as advertised. Kind of reminds me of that old James Davis and myself, but you don't want to put that type of pressure on them. I tell both of those guys to be themselves. Don't worry about high expectations other people have for you. Both have been doing a tremendous job of that so far."
You always hate to lose a player to the portal, especially one with experience. But the running back position is one with enough depth to withstand the attrition.