CLEMSON --- After watching freshman James Davis and junior Reggie Merriweather split the carries at running back in last Saturday’s win at Maryland, former running back Duane Coleman saw the writing on the wall.
That’s right, former running back.
After meeting with defensive coordinator Vic Koenning and offensive coordinator Rob Spence on Monday, Coleman is no longer in the Tiger backfield – he is now in the secondary. Coleman approached Koenning about the move during the plane ride back to Clemson.
“Other guys got the hot hand on offense and I wasn’t getting that much playing time so I tried to see if I could convert over to defense,” said the junior.
Coleman’s playing time has diminished ever since breaking his foot before the start of last season. After returning from the injury, he never appeared like his old self, when he led the Tigers in rushing as a red shirt freshman with 615 yards in 2003. Last year, he spent most of the time behind Merriweather as his total dropped to 284 yards.
Through the first two games of this year, he has carried the ball 10 times for 21 yards. All of that came in the Texas A&M game.
The Naples, Fla., native said it was frustrated watching his team come-from-behind twice this year while he was sitting helpless on the bench.
“You’re just sitting there waiting for your number to be called and you see the fourth quarter come and time ticking and you realize that your number might not get called today,” Coleman said.
Clemson head coach Tommy Bowden thinks Coleman will be an added bonus to a defense he thinks needs more of an attitude.
“He brings toughness, meanness, and a demeanor on this defense that we really haven’t seen,” said Bowden. “Maybe he will be one of those collisions I was talking about.”
Bowden said when the idea was brought up to him; he was in favor of the move because of what Coleman brings to the field.
“Duane is too good of a player to sit on the bench,” he said. “He is a tough, hard nosed guy that has practiced extremely hard. He is going to move to defense in an effort to get him on the field. He brings a demeanor to our team that we need.”
Coleman says he wishes Davis and Merriweather the best and he will be cheering for them over on the defensive side of the ball. But his decision came down to playing time and this was the best way he could help the team.
“I just like playing football man. Just put on the pads and run around,” he said. “Being on defense makes it easier – just find the football.”
The one thing Koenning likes about Coleman’s move is his experience.
“He is someone who has been in the fire,” said Koenning, who has already played eight freshmen in two games. “You just can’t understand how valuable that is.
“How fast he can help us will depend on how fast he can pick things up. We’re very multiple so he has a lot to learn, but he is an intelligent youngman that feels like he can help us and we’re going to put him back there and find out.”
After Tuesday’s practice, Coleman felt like he is going to have little trouble adjusting to the new position.
“As practice went on I was feeling more comfortable, but the first day is more of a learning process than anything else,” he said. “I’m just trying to learn the system and it’s Coach Vic’s call when I can play.”
Coleman said it was a tough decision to make, but it was nothing like the decision he faced after being kicked off the team last spring. Instead of giving up and transferring to another school, he straightened up his attitude and worked his way back onto the team.
“That helped me mature an awful lot and it was a changing point in my life,” he said.
Bowden likes Coleman’s attitude since then, and the way he has matured as both a player and as a person.
“He had some experience where he had gained wisdom,” Bowden said. “I think this is a sport that he loves and I think he just wants to play it. God says yes. He says no. And he says wait. Now is his time maybe.”
Coleman said a lot was thrown at him on his first day.
“They threw the kitchen sink at me today, but I’m learning pretty fast, it’s not really that difficult,” he said. “I’m just going to stay positive and I will get it.
“The hardest thing will be just remembering all the coverages. It is all going to come; I just have to be patient. It will come.”
As for now, Coleman says he is just going to study a lot and learn as much as he can so he can get back on the field.
“I have a good one coaching me up a little bit,” he said. “I got one of the best corners in the nation helping me out in Tye Hill and Sergio (Gilliam) is doing a good job letting me know what is going on as well.”