CLEMSON -- The thunder-and-lightning combination is back at Clemson.

With C.J. Spiller departed after a year as the feature back, the backfield timeshare returns Saturday against North Texas with Jamie Harper and Berkeley High grad Andre Ellington sharing the ball in the season opener.

Harper is OK with the split workload. Sharing is all he's known since high school, when he split backfield carries with Boston College running back Montel Harris.

Ellington says the timeshare works in part because he and Harper have been good friends since meeting at the Under Armour All-American game as prep stars.

They say the sharing arrangement will allow them to be fresher in November and potential postseason games. They say their contrasting styles are like an effective fastball-slider pitch combination in baseball.

"As a running back, you try not to take too many blows, but it happens over the course of a game," Harper said. "But to have the tandem we have and not having to take 30, 40 carries a game like some guys do is a positive."

Says Ellington: "It takes two guys."

There's something to be said for fresh legs.

Twenty-three power conference running backs logged at least 215 attempts last season. The group averaged 5.5 yards per attempt through their first 200 carries, with their production falling to 4.9 yards per carry in games following their 200th carry.

Among those players whose production fell was Heisman winner Mark Ingram.

The Alabama back rushed for 6.8 yards per carry over his first 205 attempts, but fell to 3.9 yards per carry over his final 66 carries.

Coaches are becoming more cautious about not over-working their backs. Only four Football Bowl Subdivision running backs carried the ball 300 times last season: Stanford's Toby Gerhart (343), Pitt's Dion Lewis (325), Navy's Ricky Dobbs (318) and Boston College's Harris (308).

Clemson offensive coordinator Billy Napier says running back depth is critical.

"Guys are so big and fast, and it's a contact sport. I think you really need three and four backs," Napier said. "We've been fortunate here in the past not to have major injuries at the position.

"I think cumulative carries can take a toll."

The other advantage to Clemson's timeshare is their contrasting styles.

Harper (80 carries, 418 yards last season) is a super-sized back at 225 pounds with excellent straight line speed. He also possess soft hands, hands Clemson coach Dabo Swinney calls "top five" on the team.

Ellington (68 carries, 491 yards last season) has lightning-quick change of direction ability and a natural ability to find and explode through running lanes.

They combined for a higher yards per carry average than Spiller last season.

"We do things C.J. couldn't do and C.J. did things we couldn't do," Harper said. "We just want to show everyone the running game is still going to be established at Clemson."

Harper and Swinney agreed Ellington was the most decisive running back of the group last season.

"Andre does things that none of us can do," Harper said. "He reads the hole and linemen faster than anybody I've seen in this offense. Me and C.J. each came from a Wing-T offense, we had (to adjust) to it. Andre's high school kind of ran (a similar blocking scheme)."

Harper and Ellington say there will not be designated roles like a third-down back or a short-yardage specialist. They will both be involved heavily in the passing game. They will decide who starts each game.

Harper says they are worried less about their share and about the big picture, "to go show the world there isn't a drop off at the position."

Extra points

Swinney indicated after practice Wednesday true freshmen defensive backs Darius Robinson and Martin Jenkins will likely play this season along with offensive lineman Kalon Davis. Swinney said defensive tackle Tavaris Barnes will likely redshirt. ... Swinney said linebacker Brandon Maye's arthroscopic surgery (knee) went well Wednesday and he hopes Maye will be able to return Sept. 11 against Presbyterian.

Reach Travis Sawchik at tsawchik@postandcourier.com, check out the Clemson blog at postandcourier.com/blogs/tiger_tracks and follow him on Twitter (@travis_sawchik).