CLEMSON – It’s anybody’s guess on who will take the first carry in Athens on Aug. 30 – and even more, who will lead Clemson in rushing by season’s end.
The Tigers have three returning lettermen at running back: senior D.J. Howard and juniors C.J. Davidson and Zac Brooks.
All three, at some point, were injured last year. All three are back and healthy to compete this spring.
Brooks, a former four-star prospect, is the early favorite after shoulder issues limited him late last season.
His ’13 best didn’t match his top single-game rushing totals of ’12 (12-62 against Duke; 6-47 versus Furman), but he did score his first career touchdown against Georgia (31-yard reception) – and added two rushing scores in ACC play.
Brooks says he’s not sweating the ‘RB1’ fight.
“I prepare every day,” the Jonesboro, Ar. said. “Every day I go into practice and I just work by butt off and do the best that I can do. You know what I mean? If it it’s for me to have that starting spot – whatever God has for me no man can take from me. I’m just going to work as hard as I can to be the best that I can be.
“It’s not something where, ‘Oh, I got to be the starter.’ I’m not going to take the pressure. I’m just going to be the best that I can be.”
Emerging from a former walk-on role, junior Daniel product C.J. Davidson provides some intrigue.
He rushed for the second-most touchdowns among the tailbacks last season (4) – and was a major part of the Orange Bowl gameplan, taking his four touches for 30 yards.
Davidson also certainly has the right guy in his corner going into his third year with the team, after leaving a Clemson track scholarship.
“He’s a legitimate starting type of talent in division one football,” Tigers coach Dabo Swinney said. “There’s no question about it. It’s still in front of him. He had a really, really good year. Just growing up and learning. He’ll be a factor for us the next couple years there’s no doubt about it.
“He’s tough and physical.”
“We all joke about speed in the room,” Davidson said, who’s looking to play at around 200 pounds in 2014. “I probably would just say consistency in speed (is my strength). Everybody is fast…I’m faster than Zac Brooks. Whenever he wants to race, we can do that.”
After an injury-marred three seasons on the field, senior D.J. Howard has caught Swinney’s eye as well.
The Alabama native had a 75-yard touchdown reception against Wake Forest last year, but averaged 4.1 yards per on the rest of his touches.
“I don’t know that I’ve seen him as consistent as he’s been,” Swinney said before the spring practice break. “Zac Brooks the same thing. Wayne Gallman, I say his name often. He’s going to be a fun guy to watch. It’s a good competition.”
Gallman, another former four-star prospect, is among a young group that has some size to them. He checks in at 6-1 200 – fellow redshirt Tyshon Dye, who will miss the season's start due to a torn Achilles, is 5-11 215.
They will be joined this summer by first-year freshmen Adam Choice (5-10 200), Jae’lon Oglesby (5-11 175) and C.J. Fuller (5-11 200).
Swinney says emerging from the pack for playing time will take more than a particular skillset.
“It’ll come down to everything,” he said. “You have to be a complete player to get on the field. We ain’t got time to just sub you. We play so fast if you can’t pass protect – you can’t go in the game. We check things and a lot of things happen…I’m confident. D.J. is our most veteran guy. He has a really good grasp on everything. C.J. has come a long way.
“Gallman’s learning. It’s a really good group. Get a healthy Tyshon Dye back in that group. Get Adam Choice in there this summer. It’ll be a lot of fun watching these running backs the next few years.”