Elliott confident in running backs despite lack of depth

by - Senior Writer -

Tony Elliott is excited to get back to work.

Clemson’s running backs coach met with the media early this week at Dabo SwinneyDabo Swinney
Head Coach
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’s media golf outing, and said that the season opener against Auburn should provide a stern test for his group, a group that lacks depth after the departure of Mike BellamyMike Bellamy
So. Running Back
#5 5-10, 175
Nocatee, FL

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at the beginning of the summer.

"I am definitely excited to get back to work. Obviously you look forward to time with your family,” Elliott said. “You're excited to get started. We come out of the gate with a big ballgame and that'll be an early test for our team. The boys have been working hard. They're excited. You're starting to see senior leadership has bought into what coach Swinney has asked them to do. You spend all summer away from the guys, so we're happy to get back with the boys and get linked back in to go to work."

Bellamy’s departure leaves starter Andre EllingtonAndre Ellington
RS Sr. Running Back
#23 5-10, 190
Moncks Corner, SC

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(223 carries, 1178 yards, 11 TDs), D.J. HowardD.J. Howard
RS So. Running Back
#22 5-11, 195
Lincoln, AL

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(41, 230, 1) and Hot Rod McDowell (14, 63, 1) as Clemson’s experienced returnees. Added into the mix is Clemson’s only other scholarship running back in freshman Zac BrooksZac Brooks
Fr. Athlete
# 6-2, 180
Jonesboro, AR

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, who might skip his redshirt year in order to provide depth.

"You're going to prepare him to play and obviously you would like to redshirt him,” Elliott said of Brooks. “With where he's at physically, you'd like for him to have a year to redshirt. With Mike Bellamy not returning next season, Zac will have to be ready to play. You'd like to think that D.J. and Hot Rod could carry the load, but at the same time they take a beating every single play."

Elliott said the ideal situation is to have five backs ready to play.

"Obviously you're concerned because you'd like to have five guys,” he said. “I'm confident with the guys that I have. Between those three, they'll be able to carry the load once Andre needs a break."

Elliott said that Brooks still has a ways to go before he is able to contribute, and said there was one critical area that the freshman needed to work on.

"Pass protection. Last year we sat here and said the same thing with Bellamy,” he said. “He played running back and receiver, so he was always involved. He's a smart young man. He can pick it up. He just needs those reps. He needs to be able to get back there, stand next to the quarterback and see the safety rotation, see the corners coming, see the different blitz variations they have."

Once Brooks gets the hang of the offense, Elliott said he sees him as the power back the Tigers desperately need.

"What I'm anticipating with Zac is I see him continuing to grow and be a 210-pound back with size and power,” he said. “D.J. is probably the next biggest back. He gives us that element of power. As you know, we struggled in short-yardage situations last year. Once he continues to put on some weight, he'll be that guy who can give you some power out of the backfield. He can also catch the ball out of the backfield, too. He won't be just a downhill power guy. He can be a guy who you want to do everything in the offense."

Elliott said that even Ellington has things he can work on.

"The big thing with Andre is catching the ball better out of the backfield,” he said. “We saw that was something that he needed to work on after last season. And being able to stay healthy. As you saw toward the end of the season, if you've got a healthy Andre Ellington, you've got something special. He needs to continue to build that mental toughness and continue to work to get better catching the football."

Ellington worked on making his legs stronger over the spring and summer, according to Elliott.

"The folks in strength and conditioning work with him on a daily basis,” he said. “He's not going to be a thick-legged, heavy guy. He's a scat-back but with a lot of upper body strength. The big thing with him is keeping him healthy. You don't want to put too much weight on his lower body because he'll lose what he's good at, which is making that one cut and hitting the home run.

"A lot of it is I think he's turned that corner from a mental toughness and a maturity standpoint. He understands it's his last go-around. He knows the expectations and responsibilities that he has. I think he's prepared. I think he just needs to continue to prepare every day. Now, we do have to be smart in the amount of reps we give him in camp. He's going to get plenty of punishment and pain throughout the season."

Elliott was asked if Howard could carry the load if Ellington goes down.

“He'll have to be, if that situation arises,” he said. “I've told them all, they've got to be ready to drive the car because you never know. I like what's happening in our room. We're coming together as a unit. Everybody wants to be that lead bird when their opportunity comes. I definitely think D.J. can be that guy. We'll have to be smart with Andre, too, because we know how important he is to this offense."

McDowell also needs to be ready to step in and provide quality carries.

“That's what I want. I want Hot Rod to be that guy we can count on,” he said. “He did a tremendous job this spring. Even with the situation with Mike, he had moved himself in that lead bunch. He understands defensive recognition. He's got a good skill set. He's limited in some things because he's not a big guy, so we have to put him in situations where he'll be successful."

Elliott said that a focus in camp will be in cutting down on turnovers.

"This camp and going forward I've got some new drills I want to implement,” he said. “A lot of it involves teaching them how to go to the ground with the ball. Andre carried the ball 213 times and fumbled it twice. One of those was the biggest of the season. Any time his shoulders were not square going to the ground, he opened up opportunities for folks to get in there and pull the ball away. We want our guys fighting to keep those shoulders square. You don't want to beat up your guys in drill work, but you want to recreate situations they're in over the course of a game."

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