Powell thinks running back position is in good hands

by - Senior Writer -
Tigers will be counting on Andre Ellington to pick up where first rounder C.J. Spiller left off.
Tigers will be counting on Andre Ellington to pick up where first rounder C.J. Spiller left off.

CLEMSON – Clemson running backs coach Andre Powell has the unenviable task of trying to replace a first-round NFL draft pick in C.J. Spiller this fall, but Powell says don’t feel too sorry for him, because there are a lot of coaches around the country who would gladly trade what they have for what he has.

“I feel real good about Andre and I feel real good about Jamie,” Powell told the media on Thursday. “Both of those guys had really good springs. They got better in the spring. In my mind, I always try to figure out how many guys in this league would trade their running backs for my running backs. I think there would be some people trying to trade for those two.

"Roderick [McDowell] is a good talent. He's got a lot of work to do physically and mentally. He's got to have a good summer, and hopefully with the good summer he’ll be in position to help us in the fall."

Powell was asked if the two could be considered options 1A and 1B, and he said the only difference in the two products is the packaging.

"Both of them can do what the other one can do. They're just two different packages,” he said. “In terms of one is a big package and one is a small package. When we call a pass, it doesn't really matter who's in the game. When we call a run, it doesn't really matter who's in the game."

Spiller was taken by the Buffalo Bills with the 9th overall pick in the first round of Thursday’s nationally-televised draft, and Powell was asked if that kind of attention helps in the recruiting process.

“The thing that C.J. did was C.J. put us on the map, more so than a lot of other players,” Powell said. “Whether you saw him on highlights on ESPN, or if you talk to recruits and say, 'Have you seen us play?' 'Yeah, I saw C.J.' So we've got to go out and try to duplicate, or get as close to that type of talent again. I think because people have seen him and a lot of kids want to be like him. I think that will attract a lot of good players. Anytime get your product on a national stage and promote it, it’s always a positive.”

For the first time since their arrival at Clemson, both Ellington and Harper got the majority of the snaps, and Powell said there were a couple of key things he took away from watching them every day in the spring.

“Andre solidified the fact that he's quick as lightning - he can play,” Powell said. “And Jamie proved to me that he can play on a consistent basis like a 230-pound tailback ought to play. And that's what I wanted to see."

Powell then went on to say what he thought a 230-pound tailback should play like.

“He played physical,” Powell said of Harper. “We use the term 'flat-head.' He flat-headed some folks this spring. A guy his size who can run as fast as he can run, he's best when he's playing at his top speed. Sometimes in the past, during the season last year, he had the tendency not to play as fast. And therefore he didn't make himself as valuable as he could've made himself. Now toward the end of the year, for whatever reason, the light came on.

“And he saw that, 'Hey, I'm 230 pounds and I can run, and a lot of folks don't want to get in front of me when I'm running fast.' I think he understands now. I don't want him to go out of his way to run folks over. He does have the ability to make you miss. He did have the longest run of the season last year, and he can outrun you. But when all else fails, when there's not a hole, make a hole. I think he has the ability to do that."

The topic was raised with Powell that many of the better backs say it takes them 10-15 touches to get into the flow of a game, and he was asked if he felt like that could be an issue with a two-back system, and Powell said that was not an issue: it was an excuse.

"I think that's a good excuse. That's mental, too,” he said. “You need to get your 10 or 15 snaps in pregame. Once we get it on offense, the first time we turn around and give it to you, you need to be ready to go. I don't hear [Chad] Diehl saying, 'I've got to make 10 or 15 blocks before I really get the feel of a game.' When we say 'hut,' and Diehl takes off, somebody's fixing to get splattered."

Diehl, who will be counted on to lead the way for Harper and Ellington this fall from his fullback spot, made several crushing blocks during the spring scrimmages, and Powell sat there and shook his head when talking about Clemson’s resident “physical freak.”

"In my opinion, Chad Diehl is just as much of a freak as C.J. was, relative to what we ask him to do,” Powell said. “There's not a guy in this league that plays his position that can do what he does, day in and day out. He's unbelievable.”

Powell coached New York Giants fullback Madison Hedgecock at North Carolina, and Powell compared Diehl to Hedgecock, who was a 7th-round draft pick out of UNC back in 2005.

"I had Madison Hedgecock, who plays for the Giants and won a Super Bowl and played with the Rams before that,” Powell said. “He didn't do what Chad does. When Chad hits people, he hurts them. When we played Nebraska in the Gator Bowl a couple of years ago, he hit a guy in the chest and the kid collapsed. The kid has broke several helmets on his head. He's a freak. He's a freak like Da'Quan [Bower] or Ricky [Sapp]. You don't find guys like that day in and day out. I've been coaching a long time, and he's the second guy I've been around who can intimidate people at that position. Madison was the other guy. Chad, he's a whole different animal. And he doesn't even realize it.

"He's really worked hard on his ball skills. We'll throw him a pass now. When he first got here, he couldn't catch a beach ball. But he works every day after practice to improve his ball skills, and it's paid off for him."

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