Clemson Spring Game: What to Watch for at Running Back

Competition has been the overlying message about C.J. Spiller and Dabo Swinney's running backs all spring, and Saturday will be the perfect measuring stick for a deep unit.
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One of the most competitive positions on the roster, according to head coach Dabo Swinney, every ball carrier for Clemson will have something to prove in Saturday's spring game.

Headlined by the team's top returning rusher Lyn-J Dixon, the running backs will see plenty of action in the annual outing at Memorial Stadium. With an offensive line cross-training everywhere, Saturday will be a perfect chance to thoroughly work out the seven-deep ball carrier rotation as well as evaluating run protection.

Many have shined in the few weeks of practice so far, but no starter has been determined (and likely won't be until week one), leaving every member of the Spiller's running back room with a chip on their should ahead of the contest.

Here are three things to watch for at running back during Saturday's public and televised scrimmage:

1. Early enrollees: Will Shipley and Phil Mafah were high-level prospects out of high school and have only kickstarted the coaching staff's excitement early on at Clemson. Saturday will only be a glimpse but is the perfect chance to test out the freshmen and their versatility. Plenty of options have cases for carries in the spring game but seeing a healthy dose of the mid-year options, especially later in the second half, shouldn't come as a surprise as the coaches test out their shiny new toys.

2. Have much have veterans progressed?: Dixon will likely trot out as the feature running back for the White team but will share snaps with sixth-year senior Darien Rencher as well as junior Chez Mellusi and Mafah. The three returners all have room to improve in catching the football, and to see progress there for all three upperclassmen would be a big plus for the Tigers' coaching staff. All four ball carriers for the White team will see action, but with Dixon playing 'with a fire under his rear,' this spring, according to head coach Dabo Swinney, Dixon now has the perfect chance to show why he can remain the top dog running into the summer and fall in Tiger Town.

3. Kobe Pace improvements: The sophomore back from Cedartown, Georgia, has been the Ajou Ajou equivalent for the running backs; Swinney hasn't been able to keep quiet about Pace's progression this offseason. Playing alongside Shipley, Michel Dukes, and walk-on Kevin McNeal for the Orange team, expect Pace to see a lot of action. McNeal likely won't feature until later in the contest, leaving plenty of time for Pace to put together everything he's learned since his first year on campus and will undoubtedly be the team's go-to threat in goal-line situations with a 215-pound 5-foot-9 frame. Pace's Orange team will likely throw the ball more than their opponent, with Uiagalelei under center to start. Still, as the second quarter begins and players begin to hit their strides, Pace could be right in the mix as a candidate liable to create a big play at any time for the Tigers.

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