Spring battles: Can a back emerge to lighten the load for Watson and Gallman?


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Adam Choice drew rave reviews in bowl practice
Adam Choice drew rave reviews in bowl practice

Spring football practice begins in six days, a mere 49 days following the College Football Playoff National Championship Game in Glendale, Arizona at the University of Phoenix Stadium.

Clemson’s offense doesn’t have a lot of question marks and should once again be among the nation’s best. But the lack of question marks surrounds the fact that the Tigers return several starters from a year ago – especially at the skill positions. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be competition in fall camp.

In fact, this might be one of the most competitive camps in recent memory as younger players and players returning from injury look to find their place in the pecking order. This spring will be big for veterans who have to avoid getting lost once the 2016 signees arrive on campus over the summer.

In this piece, we’ll take a look at the running back position, where several players will be vying for carries behind starter Wayne Gallman. The difference between second and third on the depth chart could mean a significant difference in the number of carries.

Why? Because Gallman was a workhorse last season, carrying the ball 283 times for 1,527 yards and 13 touchdowns. That’s an average of 20 carries per game over the 14 games he played. After that, however, the number of carries for actual running backs gets scarce. Quarterback Deshaun Watson carried the ball 207 times over 15 games, an average of 13.8 carries per game. That’s 494 combined carries on the season.

Get those two out of the way, however, and the carries begin to dry up. Players not named Watson or Gallman – and that includes the wide receivers and punter Andy Teasdall and backup quarterback Kelly Bryant – carried the ball 185 times. That averages out to 12.33 carries per game, or a carry less per game than Watson.

(NOTE: Watson carried the ball an average of 9.41 carries per game through the Miami game, but averaged 17.875 carries per game after that. That includes 87 carries over the final four games).

The competition for those scraps will be fierce in the spring. Zac Brooks decided to forego his final season of eligibility and concentrate on his post-football career, so that leaves Adam Choice, C.J. Fuller and Tyshon Dye fighting for that second spot during the spring. Everybody knows that Tavien Feaster will be on campus during the summer, and he’s talented enough to make a push for playing time. The fight for carries will begin now.

Choice took a medical redshirt last season after a promising start to his freshman campaign in 2014. He had 218 yards and one touchdown on 50 carries along with nine receptions for 90 yards in 130 snaps over six games before tearing his ACL at Boston College in October. The returns from the scout team and bowl practice were positive, and we heard he could have played last season if he had been needed. However, he appears to be 100 percent healthy and will be fighting for playing time.

C.J. Fuller carried the ball 42 times last season – second-most among running backs – for 171 yards and a touchdown. However, he didn’t garner a single carry in seven games last season, including each of the last three. That followed a ten carry effort against Wake Forest (when Gallman was hurt) and a four carry game against South Carolina. He combined for 32 of his carries in those games and blowout wins over Miami (FL), Georgia Tech and Wofford.

That brings us to Tyshon Dye, who battled injury throughout the first part of his career and was seemingly healthy at the end of last season. Dye registered a DNP (did not play) in nine games last season, which means he wasn’t even a factor on special teams. He carried the ball 23 times for 91 yards but had just three carries the rest of the season after earning eight at Miami in October. In fact, Dye didn’t play in seven of the final eight games, getting those three carries in the win over Wake Forest.

Considering the fact that Feaster will come in over the summer and that there appear to be limited carries behind Gallman – and Watson – the players that wind up third or fourth on the depth chart coming out of spring will be facing an uphill battle.

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