CLEMSON — Brent Venables is discovering that certain situations on the practice field mean trouble for his defense.

Clemson's defensive coordinator says the Tigers might have the most experienced offensive line in the country — and that has been a challenge for his defense.

He believes Clemson's wide receivers and quarterbacks are the "elite of the elite" — that too has been difficult. 

And then there is that new running back — or "No. 23" as Venables also calls him.

No. 23 is freshman sparkplug Lyn-J Dixon, who has been running up and down the field against Venables' vaunted defense.

Last week Dixon busted a run for about 30 yards, then followed it up with another for 50 yards in a live scrimmage. Regardless of whether Clemson decides to redshirt him this year, Dixon has the potential to be a breakout star.

Just ask Venables, who doesn't dish out praise very often and rarely speaks about Clemson's offensive unit. 

"The new back has toughness to him," Venables said. "How much he knows (system-wise), I'm not sure. But he runs with toughness and has an attitude and has good skill. He's got a bright future if he keeps his head down and keeps working."

Dixon, who hails from Butler, Ga., was one of Clemson's quieter recruits this year, much like Travis Etienne was last year. Like Etienne, Dixon seems to have a 'wow' factor that stems from natural ability.

Having just arrived over the summer, there is still plenty Dixon needs to absorb from a play-book standpoint. But his instincts, like Etienne's, are spot on when he sees a hole and explodes past what is arguably the best defensive line in college football.

Clemson running backs coach and co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott has described Dixon as a mix between Etienne and Andre Ellington. Etienne, of course, holds Clemson's freshman record for rushing touchdowns. Ellington, the former Berkeley High star, went to Clemson and then the NFL.

"Lyn-J with the ball, it's a lot like Travis was last camp. Ball in his hands, he just finds a way to make a play. He's a relentless runner, runs a lot bigger than his (5-10, 195) size and is hard to tackle," Elliott said. "You're talking about a kid going from a high school that was playing (Class) A football, to now you're out here going against coach Venables and all those guys and the things he does defensively are really, really challenging. But with the ball in his hands, he's playing fast and making plays."

Clemson is under no pressure to decide if it wants to redshirt Dixon. New NCAA rules allow players to play in four games without losing eligibility. But so far, Dixon has proven he is too good to redshirt, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said.

And certainly the comparisons he has drawn put him in good company.

"That little sucker can scoot, man," Swinney said. "I wanted to hold judgment until I saw him in the pads and see just how he was going to respond inside with Dexter (Lawrence) and Christian (Wilkins) and those cats. I’ll tell you, he didn’t back down. He’s got some bite to him."

Game prep starts Tuesday

Swinney said he is very comfortable with where his Clemson team is now from an installation standpoint, and next week the page turns to game prep. Fall camp ends Tuesday for Clemson with classes beginning Wednesday. Tuesday is when the Tigers will start really looking at Furman. 

Follow Grace Raynor on Twitter @gmraynor

Grace is the Post and Courier's Clemson reporter. She graduated from the University of North Carolina with a degree in journalism.