Sapakoff: Tavien Feaster with ‘that swagger’ looks like Clemson’s post-Gallman RB answer
SUNSET – Tavien Feaster has put on almost 30 pounds since he left Spartanburg High School and now is 5-11, 220. He is still just as fast, and smarter as a Clemson sophomore, perhaps ready for stardom expected of a top-rated recruit.
“Feaster is walking around with that confidence and that swagger that he had in high school when he knew he was the guy,” Tony Elliott, the Tigers’ running backs coach and offensive co-coordinator, said Tuesday at Clemson’s football media day at The Reserve at Keowee golf course. “Because now he’s put in the work.”
Junior C.J. Fuller has become a more vocal leader.
Junior Adam Choice, an option quarterback in high school, is becoming better at blocking and catching.
Elliott is raving about freshmen Travis Etienne’s “ton of raw material.”
All good because for Clemson to have a nice season – that is, stay in the College Football Playoff hunt into November and wind up in a New Year’s Six bowl game – the Tigers must replace the vital cog.
Deshaun Watson, the national championship-winning quarterback and ESPY Award winner?
But Wayne Gallman rushed for 1,133 yards last season, scored 17 touchdowns and caught 20 passes. The underrated member Clemson’s backfield scored twice at Florida State and once apiece in playoff wins over Ohio State and Alabama.
He was good.
For Clemson to move the ball efficiently, particularly with a new quarterback, Feaster or someone – at least someone – must step forward.
Ideally before the rugged Auburn/Louisville stretch that follows a Sept. 2 opener against the Kent State Golden Flashes.
“We could do it by committee,” Elliott said. “It’s really going to be up to those guys, if one of them wants to separate themselves.”
‘Long haul’ plan
It won’t be easy. Gallman, a New York Giants’ 2017 fourth-round draft pick, led Clemson in rushing each of the last three years. He also left a legacy of work ethic. Elliott thinks it rubbed off on Feaster, Fuller (5-10, 215) and Choice (5-9, 210).
The key now is transferring effort into consistent production.
It’s most likely Feaster, first and foremost. But that the preseason depth chart is Fuller, Choice and Feaster in that order makes some people think something is wrong.
If this consensus high school All-American is so great, why hasn’t he seized control?
Feaster wondered, too, asking Elliott last season.
Elliott’s answer: “We’re building for the long haul; we’re not building for short term success.”
Pass protection was a problem, as often the case with freshmen. One good Feaster play was followed by two bad plays. Attention to detail was a year-long ordeal.
A busy receiver at Spartanburg High School, Feaster is still looking for his first college catch. He wasn’t in on pass plays in 2017 because coaches didn’t trust him to protect the quarterback.
But now Feaster seems to grasp the importance of being able to know the difference between a 3-4 defensive front and a 4-3. He knows what that means for a blocking scheme.
“I didn’t just want a flash in the pan,” Elliott said. “I want him to be the best who’s ever come here. He’s one of the few who you can say has the ability. But there’s some things we have to develop just from a mental standpoint to get there.”
The Clemson coaching staff believes two great things happened to Feaster last season:
1. He had Gallman as an example.
2. Gallman was an eager mentor.
Clemson’s quick tempo runs smoothest with versatility and fewer running back substitutions in rapidly changing strategy scenarios. Gallman had 232 carries last season; Fuller was next among running backs with 47 (211 yards, 4.5 yards per carry) with no touchdowns rushing but two receiving.
Choice rushed 45 times for 158 yards (3.5 yards per carry).
Feaster had 221 yards on 37 carries (6.0).
Elliott recently offered running back thoughts to head coach Dabo Swinney: post-Gallman, the Alpha-male is coming out in Fuller, Choice and Feaster.
“There’s an opportunity,” Elliott said Tuesday. “There’s a hunger. They’re all ready. They know what it takes. They know what it looks like.”
The next Wayne Gallman might be a mix of two guys, maybe more. It’s best for Clemson if the primary answer is a bigger Tavien Feaster, still fast but seasoned enough to match that swagger.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff