CLEMSON - No disrespect intended toward his former quarterback, but senior D.J. Howard's tired of seeing the purist-minded running back's most critical chore - churning out that third-and-two gain or goal-line score - usurped within Clemson's offensive system.
"Yeah, it's going on us. That's our job," Howard said. "Short yardage, running the ball, that's us. Anything else, we feel offended."
Tajh Boyd was extremely adept, with his 6-1, 225-pound frame, at squeezing through and sacrificing his body to move the chains or push the ball into the end zone.
That was as much due to his awareness and patience as his physical offerings, so while new starter Cole Stoudt added 20 pounds of muscle in the offseason, it remains to be seen whether he's used as often on quarterback draws.
"We're going to call the best play that gives us the best chance to convert, whatever that is, (even) if that's running the quarterback and gaining an extra (blocker,)" Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. "I do think you'll see the quarterbacks very active in the running game - that's just what we do.
"But the balance we're looking for with our run game from the backs is going to be much improved."
If Howard, juniors Zac Brooks and C.J. Davidson have their way, Stoudt or Deshaun Watson will hand off more often when it's time to plunge for a couple yards.
"Due to the schemes and the offense, we always play within the system, and we trust whatever Coach (Chad) Morris calls will work," Brooks said. "As a running back, you always want that responsibility - third-and-short, it's a pride thing."
As fine a year as then-senior Roderick McDowell had as the 2013 workhorse tailback, he didn't score until the trip to Maryland, eight games into the season.
Seven of Boyd's 10 rushing scores were from inside the five-yard line, and until his long dash in the Orange Bowl, all were inside the eight. Meanwhile, the entire running back corps combined for eight short-yardage scores all year, led by Davidson's four touchdowns from 1 or 2 yards out.
"As far as the red zone and goal line, they kind of started leaning toward Tajh," Davidson said. "We've got a heavy group this year, so a lot of that's going to change."
Even Stoudt managed a 2-yard running score last year, a designed draw with 13 ticks remaining in the 51-14 loss to Florida State. That was as a self-described "scrawny" 210-pounder; Stoudt's now up to 231 this fall.
"I'm going to try to deliver a hit. I'm gonna try. I'm working on it, but I'm not promising anything," Stoudt said, laughing. "I'm comfortable getting in there and delivering a hit on 4th-and-1. It's something we're going to have some fun with."
Besides the three most experienced running backs on the roster, Clemson has other options like tight end Jay Jay McCullough - who at 245 pounds could fill in at H-back - or freshmen Wayne Gallman, Tyshon Dye, Adam Choice or C.J. Fuller.
"We've got to get square, we've got to hit the hole and push the pile," running backs coach Tony Elliott said. "We're not swinging for any home runs. We want the base hit."
Added Swinney: "One position I'm not worried about is the running backs. We're going to be just fine right there."
Howard, the veteran leader of the position group, said it's not so much toughness as confidence to succeed in short-yardage situations.
"Whoever's the most aggressive at the 1, or inside the red zone, that's who coach is going to put back there," Howard said. "You've got to have that will, like, 'I will not be stopped. This is my area. You're not going to stop from me getting in this end zone. It's either me or you, and it's going to be me.'"
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