Everyone is well aware of the damage that Clemson can do to opposing defenses through the air. Quarterback Tajh Boyd proved that himself. But Andre Ellington was the catalyst for the Tigers running game, and now he has departed and left a hole at running back.
There's uncertainty as to who will step up to replace Ellington's production after having back-to back 1,000-yard rushing seasons. And for all of Clemson's passing efficiency, Chad Morris' offense is still at its best when supported by an effective ground game.
Heading into the spring, there will certainly be plenty of interest as to who will be able to separate themselves from the pack.
Running backs coach Tony Elliot will certainly have plenty to look for this offseason.
The first name that comes to mind when it comes to starting is Rod McDowell. Having worked as a backup his entire career, McDowell worked almost exclusively as the primary backup behind Ellington for most of 2012, rushing for 450 yards and five touchdowns.
McDowell showed flashes and good burst through the hole, but Ellington still got the majority of the carries. The biggest question will be whether McDowell can indeed carry the load as the main back.
D.J. Howard will be one of those looking for more carries in the run game. A redshirt sophomore in 2012, Howard was the primary backup in 2011 as the redshirt freshman, even earning one start when Ellington was injured. But he was unable to get anything going and went through 2012 with 138 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
He struggled with nagging shoulder injuries, which allowed McDowell to overtake him as the No. 2 back. Howard was thought to have more upside than McDowell, but Howard's health may be the difference between starting and being a backup.
The other returning back is freshman Zac Brooks. Brooks, who was rated as the best prospect out of the state of Arkansas avoided a redshirt due to Howard's nagging injury issues and the low number of scholarship running backs.
Brooks saw little time on the field, rushing for only 119 yards, and will need the offseason to bulk up and show that he has a good grasp of the offense to earn playing time. Whether he has a good enough spring to warrant more looks in the fall will be something for coaches to keep an eye on.
Clemson will be signing two highly rated backs in Tyshon Dye and Wayne Gallman.
Dye is rated as a 4-star prospect by recruiting services at ESPN, Rivals, Scout and 247. Dye is listed at 6'1", 210 pounds and fits the mold of the bigger backs that Chad Morris has been looking for in this offense. Dye could also find himself on special teams.
Listed as 6'1", 195 pounds, Gallman also fits the mold of the bigger back that this offense is looking for. Both Gallman and Dye will be given their chance to compete in the fall, and there is a chance that one of them will redshirt.
The Tigers are unlikely to enter the 2013 season with only three running backs, and are also likely to have more of a running back-by-committee approach. In addition, Boyd's rushing ability will take some carries from these backs. He was Clemson's second-leading rusher in 2012 behind Ellington, with 514 yards.
Clemson's offense still has the potential to be as dangerous as it was in 2012, and just as the offensive line remained the biggest question of that offseason, now that attention has turned to Elliot and his corps of running backs.