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3 Things Learned: Running Backs

In what was presumed to be a transition year, running backs coach C.J. Spiller has bundles of talent on his hands with the competition wide open this spring.

Clemson has never fielded college football's most prominent running backs, but Travis Etienne set the bar in a different dimension for the Tigers.

With Etienne on his way to the NFL, the competition is as wide open as it's been in years, with talent all across the board and a new position coach who's tying it all together, according to Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney.

"C.J. (Spiller) is doing an awesome job; I love how he's managing those guys," Swinney said. "They're all in it, and they're all competing. It's one of the most competitive spots on our team (this spring)."

With how many capable running backs Clemson has at its disposal, Spiller picked the perfect year to start for the Tigers, as a dedicated position coach will benefit this talented unit far more than stretching offensive coordinator Tony Elliott thin.

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After having a week off for spring break, here's what we've learned about one of the most wide-open position groups for the Tigers:

Both freshmen are going to have a role: Freshmen Will Shipley and Phil Mafah have both made an impact in their first weeks at Clemson, and Swinney believes "those freshmen are just special."

Both have been naturals in their first practices, and Swinney notes that competition among the group will only make everyone better. Mafah and Shipley are both ahead of their curve coming from similar systems and haven't been overwhelmed by the moment. According to the Clemson head coach, both have the "right stuff" and have a good future.

Kobe Pace could make the biggest jump: Of any running back returning this season for the Tigers, Pace has made the most noticeable improvement of them all and could find himself as the No. 1 option as the season progresses.

In only nine days, Swinney said that he loves what he's seen from Pace. His biggest competition will come from Clemson's highest returning rusher Lyn-J Dixon. Still, Pace has shown the ability, especially on the goal line, to be the best option for Elliott and Swinney at running back.

Despite competition, Dixon still cream of the crop: As the second and most experienced senior running back next to Darien Rencher, Dixon has had a lot of speculation whether he could rise to the top after Etienne's departure.

It's still early, but Dixon has shown the right mentality in his first year as the alpha dog with Swinney saying, "there's a difference between running towards a fire, and running away from it," when talking about Dixon's progress this spring. While talent may rise to the top by season's end, Dixon will undoubtedly enter the opener as Clemson's most reliable carrier of the rock with the amount of experience and leadership to his name, but will easily be one misstep from another option hearing their number called.