It's hard to overstate Andre Ellington's value to the Clemson offense in 2011. If the deceptively quick Berkeley High School graduate is right from the get-go, Clemson can challenge Florida State and Virginia Tech for Atlantic Coast Conference supremacy.
If not, the Tigers will finish third or worse in the Atlantic Division of the ACC.
He is that good.
Ellington rushed for 140 yards against the national champs last September in Clemson's 27-24 overtime loss at Jordan-Hare Stadium, a game that turned the tide for both Tigers teams.
Auburn remained undefeated through 14 games.
Clemson was never as sharp after quarterback Kyle Parker suffered a rib injury that night.
The Clemson running game lacked punch after Ellington went down with a toe injury at Boston College on Oct. 30. December surgery repaired a ligament tear and fractured sesamoid bone.
Ellington, going into his redshirt junior year, is expected back at full strength in August. But watch closely. It might be up to you to figure out if No. 23 is fully healthy.
This reminder comes courtesy of injuries involving Parker, a pro outfielder, and safety DeAndre McDaniel, seeking NFL work.
Parker recently disclosed that a Colorado Rockies physical in January revealed evidence of a broken rib early in the 2010 football season, way before the cracked ribs he suffered during Clemson's bowl loss to South Florida. Like as far back as the Auburn game.
McDaniel played with a fractured wrist his senior season. That McDaniel still requires surgery is one of the reasons he wasn't selected in the NFL draft last week.
Parker and McDaniel were not listed on the Clemson injury report going into the South Carolina game. Parker was not listed going into the Miami game, Clemson's next game following the Auburn loss. Or the North Carolina game, or N.C. State game or, well, you get the picture.
That is because both players started every game of 2011 and regularly practiced.
"Our policy is we do not put a player on the injury list if we know he's going to play," Clemson sports information director Tim Bourret said Saturday. "We only put a player on there if we think he might not play, or won't play." Personally, I prefer broken bones explained so fans and media don't throw players under the bus.
But Clemson was in complete compliance with the ACC's weekly injury report rule and fully disclosed McDaniel's injury to NFL teams.
Parker was X-rayed after the Auburn game and not again until after the South Florida game. The first X-ray, Bourret said, did not show a break "but that might have been because of swelling."
Parker consistently received treatment for bruised ribs last fall.
Knowing what you know now, do you feel differently about Parker's erratic performances of 2010?
About McDaniel's disappointing season?
Hopefully, Ellington won't need so much TLC this fall.
With new starting quarterback Tajh Boyd trying to mesh with new offensive coordinator Chad Morris' hurry-up offense, the Tigers need every quality carry they can get.
Remember, Clemson finished fifth in the Atlantic Division in 2010 after playing in the ACC title game in 2009.
The heavy Atlantic Division favorite is Florida State. E.J. Manuel looks like the real deal at quarterback. The Seminoles capped a 10-win season with a Chick-fil-A Bowl victory over South Carolina, and Virginia Tech and North Carolina are not on the schedule.
N.C. State is formidable. Russell Wilson is playing baseball in Asheville with Parker, his fellow Colorado Rockies prospect. But head coach Tom O'Brien thinks Mike Glennon can get it done at quarterback.
The Wolfpack has Clemson at home on Nov. 19.
Boston College likely will be 5-0 coming to Death Valley (Northwestern, at Central Florida, Duke, Massachusetts, Wake Forest).
The whole division, head to Ellington's toe, might depend on the Clemson injury report.
Or the relative health of Tiger starters.