CLEMSON — With the departure of Travis Etienne to the NFL, one of the biggest position battles that remains at Clemson can be found at running back.
Assistant coach C.J. Spiller steps in as the running backs coach in 2021 and the Tigers have some big shoes to fill. However, there are many capable bodies ready for their chance to shine. Five-star running back Will Shipley can be a star and sophomore Kobe Pace made a significant jump during spring practice. Yet one veteran has been quietly waiting his turn.
Lyn-J Dixon is now in his fourth season with the program and enters the year with 1,372 career rushing yards, with 13 touchdowns in 38 games played. The 5-foot-10, 195-pound tailback is ready for his opportunity, but the competition for playing time will be fierce.
Here is how the senior from Georgia can hold onto the starting job full-time this season.
Dixon had his best season as a Tiger as a true freshman. The former four-star prospect in the class of 2018 rushed for 547 yards on 62 carries, scoring five touchdowns while averaging 8.82 yards per rush. The dynamic diaper dandy was a force to be reckoned with on Clemson’s undefeated squad in 2018.
In 2019, Dixon saw his yards per rush average drop to 6.11 on 104 attempts. In 2020, the numbers took another dip as the tailback recorded just 4.52 yards per rush on 42 attempts. The trend is heading in the wrong direction and the senior must get that corrected.
In 2018, Dixon posted six rushes of 20-plus yards in 62 attempts. The tailback has combined for four rushes of 20-plus yards in 146 attempts since. This fall, the running back must find a way to create more chunk plays on the ground.
Bring passing game value
Last year, the Clemson offense made a concerted effort to get the backs involved in the passing game. With the offensive line struggling to create consistent movement at the point of attack, offensive coordinator Tony Elliott found other ways to get Etienne involved.
The starting tailback finished third on the team in receptions (48) as the multi-dimensional back was one of Trevor Lawrence’s top targets in the passing game. Dixon could also bring passing game value.
As a sophomore, Dixon recorded 14 receptions for 121 yards while backing up Etienne. The tailback has proven to be a capable receiver in the passing attack. If the senior can provide this consistently, Dixon can give the offense three-down value at the running back position, making personnel decisions more difficult for the coaching staff.
This is something Dixon hasn’t had to provide yet. The senior had a minimum workload due to Etienne getting most of the reps ahead of him. However, if Dixon checks the previous two boxes, the tailback will then have to prove he can perform weekly.
One of Etienne’s greatest strengths was his ability to remain healthy and efficient for Clemson consistently. Dixon will be shooting for that same level of effectiveness as a senior.