Clemson Football: 2012 Season Could Hinge on Tigers' Running Game

Colby Lanham@Colby1226Correspondent IJune 29, 2012

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - JANUARY 04:  Andre Ellington #23 of the Clemson Tigers runs the ball against the West Virginia Mountaineers during the Discover Orange Bowl at Sun Life Stadium on January 4, 2012 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
J. Meric/Getty Images

With the CWS series over, and NBA star Lebron James having won his first NBA title, we can finally turn our attention to the fact that the college football season is less than three months away.

It’s time for a fresh start to a new season.

For the Clemson Tigers, it means continuing to perform at a high level coming off their first ACC Championship since 1991. But at the same time, it also means bouncing back from the embarrassment of the 70-33 Orange Bowl performance.

Coming into 2012, all eyes will be on the new-look defense under new defensive coordinator Brent Venables, and the status of the offensive and defensive lines. But fans should also focus their attention on another facet of the second-year Chad Morris offense: the running game.

As it stands, the Tigers will head into the season with four scholarship running backs. But, this is a group of largely unproven or underperforming backs. While starting running back Andre Ellington is undoubtedly one of the best backs in the ACC, he has not made it through a full season since taking on full time starting status and has been bothered by nagging injuries but managed to rush for over 1,000 yards in 2011.

The lack of proven depth behind Ellington should be just as big a concern as the depth on the offensive and defensive lines.

The Tigers have two young unproven backs in sophomore D.J. Howard, who saw limited action last season and showed flashes, and true freshman Zac Brooks, who will now be likely to see action thanks to the departure of Mike Bellamy.

Junior running back Rod McDowell, who has been a spring workout warrior, does provide depth but has largely underperformed in his first two seasons, having been surpassed by Howard as the No. 2 back on the depth chart behind Ellington.

When Ellington has gone down due to injury, the running game has suffered, and the Tigers suddenly become a one-dimensional team. This lets opposing pass rushers pin their ears back and get after quarterback Tajh Boyd.

And in a season where the Tigers have depth and proven talent at quarterback and wide receiver, but have questions along the offensive line, it remains important that Ellington stays healthy and that RB coach Tony Elliot helps these reserves develop.

Otherwise, the Tigers will have an even bigger gaping hole at the position when 2013 rolls around.