Duane Coleman was the leading rusher for the Tigers last year with with 674 yards.
(EDITOR'S NOTE: Clemson head football coach Tommy Bowden has publicly challenged his running game to approach 2,500 yards on the ground in 2004. Earlier this week, Tigers' running back coach Burton Burns sat down with Dan Scott to discuss Bowden's challenge and other aspects of the Clemson rushing attack.)
DS: Tommy Bowden has reiterated that the running game must produce between 2,000-2,500 yards in 2004. As the position coach, what's your reaction to that challenge?
BB: What we have to do is come out here every day and improve on some of the things we didn't do last year. A lot of things last year were things you didn't see with the naked eye. They were technical things that we've already identified with the back. They have a better understanding. I think this group, the guys who played a lot like Duane (Coleman), he was a rookie. There were some things he didn't understand. He didn't see it happening. Now after a year's experience under his belt he can see those things. So what we're trying to do is come out here every day and work on those technical things in the running game, and just basically if we can do those things consistently out here on the practice field, maybe we'll get more confidence as far as the running game is concerned. We'll get the runs called a little more consistently. The thing I try to sell the backs is the better we're running the ball, the more it's going to get called. The only way we're going to get that done is coming out here and improving on those technical aspects that we weren't too good at last year.
DS: Speaking of Duane, a year ago at the beginning of the season it was obvious he hadn't played in a game for almost two years. But as the season went on it seemed the light began to go on for him. Would you agree?
BB: Yes. It was experience. But even if he would have played the first year, probably the same thing would have happened. It's a different game from high school to college - the speed of the game, and learning you have to depend on those other 10 guys. In high school there were probably some things he did on his own where it didn't matter what the other 10 guys were doing. That's what we're trying to continue to work on, making him understand he's got to fit his ability within the other 10 guys on the field.
DS: How has Yusef Kelly been so far this spring? Last year was a rough year for him.
BB: I think he grew up a lot. I think the one thing you see as far as a big difference in Yusef is that he's a lot more mature person. His work habits on the field, he has a lot more of a sense of urgency simply because he understands the big picture rather than just the individual picture from his standpoint. He's done a good job. During the offseason he's worked hard. I think he understands better than anyone what happened to him last year.
DS: So you feel like Kelly can have a big senior season?
BB: I'm very optimistic for him. I just think his work habits and his attitude are a good indication right now. What we want from Yusef is what we wanted from him when he first came here. We don't necessarily want him to fit in the role of Chad Jasmin from last year. That happened for Chad and Duane and they became a good combination. We want Yusef to be Yusef. He gives us something different that Chad didn't have. What we're looking for coming out of spring ball is for him to create his individuality and (become) the back we thought he would be when we first brought him in here.
DS: With Kyle Browning moved to cornerback, that leaves Reggie Merriweather as the only other running back you have with any real experience.
BB: Reggie had a great spring last year, but the thing that hurt him during the fall was consistency. So we've challenged Reggie this year to come out here day in and day out and be consistent. He was pretty consistent last spring, but he kind of lost some of it from spring to fall camp. What we're trying to do is develop some habits from him where it will be an easy carry-over; it can't be something you stop in the spring and pick back up in the summer. We're trying to make him understand that from a mental standpoint so that when summer comes around he will continue to prepare himself, and pick up basically where he left off last spring.
DS: How have your running backs responded to Bowden's challenge?
BB: I think it's natural for a running back to want 1,000 yards, to want his offensive team to have over 2,000 yards rushing. So it is a challenge to those guys, but I think it's something - from the inside - they're already self-motivated. They want to get 1,000 yards. They want to have the opportunity to be on a team that rushes for over 2,500 yards. It's a combination of being motivated, being called out, being challenged and, at the same time, it's the pride factor. If I'm a running back, if I'm going to work hard every day my expectations should naturally be to be a 1,000-yard rusher. I think our guys look at it from that standpoint.
DS: And if they don't, is that when coach Burns steps in and has the old 'Come to Jesus' meeting with them?
BB: Yes (laughs). What you have to do with those guys is remind them. Sometimes you get caught up in the hype and forget what expectations they have as a running back. And the expectation, in my opinion, should be to be a 1,000-yard rusher. Sometimes they get distracted. They get out there and there are so many different things going on as far as the complete offense, sometimes they get distracted and forget about the little things. I do have those type of meetings. My point of emphasis is let's get back to basics, back to the little things, the things that you did in high school? Why did you get 1,000 yards in high school? There's something that got you there. We just try to bring them back in touch with those things right there.