Tony Elliott: Young running backs have to "get themselves ready to play"


by - Senior Writer -
Elliott says Mellusi and Dukes will have to be ready to play this season
Elliott says Mellusi and Dukes will have to be ready to play this season

CLEMSON – Adam Choice graduated and Tavien Feaster made the decision to spend his senior season in another locale, leaving Tony Elliott’s running backs room long on talent but short on experience.

The Tigers return veteran backup Darien Rencher behind starter Travis Etienne and sophomore Lyn-J Dixon, but Elliott knows one or both of his freshmen will have to contribute this season. With that in mind, his message to Chez Mellusi and Michel Dukes is simple.

“Get themselves ready to play. That’s the overall expectation,” Elliott told the media Tuesday at head coach Dabo Swinney’s annual media outing. “But you know what, that’s the expectation for all of them. Same thing with Travis – get yourself ready to play, and if you’re ready to play, you can contribute. Same thing with Lyn-J. So, it won’t be any different, and there’s not going to be any additional pressure put on those guys.

“Because the biggest thing for those guys, in order for them to do what they do at this position, is confidence. So I have to do a great job of helping them manage their confidence. Let me handle all the pressure and all the expectation and take that off of them, and just let them go out and learn and develop, and then see where they are once we get halfway through fall camp.”

Mellusi comes to Clemson after a stellar high school career in Naples, Fla. He finished his high school career with 3,905 yards rushing and 50 touchdowns, had 4,409 all-purpose yards and 55 total touchdowns. Mellusi averaged an incredible 9.3 yards per carry over 32 games and 421 carries and had 21 100-yard games. As a senior he had a career-best 1,819 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns while averaging 165 yards a game and 9.9 yards per rush.

“For him, he’s a very focused young man,” Elliott said of Mellusi. “You can tell that he’s got a lot of maturity. He comes from a great program, so he’s got a very strong foundation from a strength standpoint. Just talking to some of the older guys, they’re saying he’s moving around well, he’s grasping what they’re trying to teach him. But I won’t be able to fully assess it until I get out there, get my eyes on him and get my hands on him. But everything I’ve heard has been really positive on him, and on Mikey Dukes.”

Dukes has drawn rave reviews during summer workouts – some have compared his explosiveness to Etienne – after a prep career at Charleston (SC) First Baptist. Dukes ended his high school career with 685 carries for 8,762 rushing yards and 117 rushing touchdowns as well as 34 receptions for 743 yards and nine receiving touchdowns.

“I think he’s gotten some people’s attention with his athleticism,” Elliott said. “I think a lot of people and I think everybody here saw what he did in that dunk contest down in Charleston. And that was something that I had seen all along. I knew he was a really good athlete, so I think that’s what’s caught people’s attention, and they like his demeanor. He’s really focused.

“I saw him the other day, and it looks like he’s probably already gained about seven or eight pounds since he’s got here. So, he’s a guy that has really jumped in and is not trying to do too much, but he’s trying to do everything that he can if that makes sense.”

Of course, if you’re going to play running back in Elliott’s offense, a back has to learn how to protect the quarterback.

“That’s probably the biggest concern,” Elliott said. “And the next is understanding the run scheme and the timing. I go back to Wayne Gallman. Wayne Gallman, it took him a long time to figure that out. If you remember watching Wayne, he was trying to do everything on his own because he didn’t quite understand the concept and the timing.

“So once we’re able to get them to understand, then they can survive. Once they understand what we’re trying to do, they’re natural athletes with the ball in their hands and they know what they do. And then pass protection, it’s my job to assess what their knowledge is, figure out what they understand, what they don’t understand, figure out how to teach them and help them progress, and then day-to-day we work on the fundamentals.”

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