Dabo Swinney really likes his ’14 running backs. So does Chad Morris.
But they, like you and I, are curious as to who will step up and out from the crowd to take charge in Athens and after.
After three injury-plagued seasons, D.J. Howard used a strong spring session to lead the pack on the post-spring depth chart.
Junior former four-star prospect Zac Brooks is in a three-way tie in the second tier with junior former walkon C.J. Davidson and redshirt freshman Wayne Gallman.
We have Clemson as one of the more productive running teams this season – ACC and nationally, but who emerges?
First up, the two with the most experience – Howard and Brooks…
2014 Projections – D.J. Howard, Zac Brooks
Brandon Rink – OrangeandWhite.com
Breakout Season: 150 carries –800 yards – 11 TDs
Bust: 50 carries – 225 yards – 2 TDs
2014 Outlook: 112 carries – 595 yards – 6 TDs
Howard has shown flashes among a variety of nicks and bruises leading up to his senior campaign. He hasn’t quite shown what Rod McDowell did leading up to his 1,000-yard season in 2013, however.
Howard by season
2011: 149 snaps – 41 carries – 230 yards – 1 TD
2012 119 snaps – 35 carries – 138 yards – 2 TDs
2013: 174 snaps – 57 carries – 231 yards – 2 TDs
The coaches were impressed with the Alabama native over the spring, and though such assessments require a dose of salt, Howard – if healthy (…a big if) – should finish atop the group in carries at five-plus yards a clip.
He’s a strong runner, who might not quite have the moves “Hot Rod” did in the open field, but can find a seam and run away from certain defenders. I have him taking about 35 percent of the RB snaps, which would be around 25 percent down from McDowell’s share of load in 2013.
Breakout Season: 120 carries – 675 yards – 10 TDs
Bust: 35 carries – 150 yards – 1 TD
2014 Outlook: 83 carries – 420 yards – 5 TDs
The Arkansas native has played just over 200 career snaps and had more than three carries in 10 career games – some thanks to a crowded depth chart (2012) and also injury a la Howard (shoulder).
The sample size a bit low, Brooks still displayed the ability, as a receiver out of the backfield (31-yard TD catch against Georgia) and busting big plays.
% of carries for 10 or more yards (2012-13)
1. Zac Brooks – 16.2 (12)
2. Rod McDowell – 15.4 (42)
3. Tajh Boyd – 13.5 (27)
4. D.J. Howard – 13 (12)
5. C.J. Davidson – 11.1 (4)
Fighting off Davidson and the young-gun tailbacks, Brooks will have to hold up running between the tackles to stay on the field. The possibilities in the pass-game should give him an edge in the group, but it’ll all come down to health to finally make a consistent impact in Chad Morris’ offense.
Marty Coleman – SeldomUsedReserve.com
Breakout Season: 160 carries – 699 yards – 6 TDs
Bust: 40 carries – 175 yards – 1 TD
2014 Outlook: 125 carries – 546 yards – 3 TDs
Is it me or does Howard seem to play slower than the 4.5 speed listed out of high school and get caught up in the wash a fair amount to this point in his career? Can Howard overcome that with enough carries and a bigger sample size and will he end the season as the Tigers #1 running back?
I foresee a log jam in which no one completely owns the position, at least for the first half of the season.
Breakout Season: 125 carries, 616 yards, 4TDs
Bust: 40 carries, 197 yards, 1 TD
2014 Outlook: 75 carries, 370 yards, 3 TDs
Brooks has shown flashes as his 4.9 career average (74 carries) attests, but I don’t see him as a featured back and have questions about his ability to stay healthy. Additionally, a good chunk of Brooks’ carries were in non-competitive situations, making him an unknown despite entering his junior season.
Similar to last season, I believe this is a crucial year in the evolution of Zac Brooks at Clemson considering the stable of running backs vying for playing time. It may be a 2014 or never for Zac Brooks at Clemson.
For more Clemson RB thoughts, check out SeldomUsedReserve.com