For the last couple of years, the Virginia Tech Hokies have had a redshirt freshman break out and make a name for himself on the offensive side of the ball. In 2014, that role was reserved for TE Bucky Hodges who was followed by RB Travon McMillian in 2015. Looking ahead to 2016, RB Deshawn McClease seems like he may follow in their foot steps especially in a Justin Fuente offense that seems to fit his skill set well.
Last season, McClease was buried on the depth chart, and the Hokies made the smart decision in redshirting him and giving him some time to develop. With J.C. Coleman graduating and Trey Edmunds transferring, the door opened this spring for someone to claim playing time behind Travon McMillian.
McClease seized that opportunity and is now even putting some pressure on McMillian.
McClease is similar to J.C. Coleman in some ways as they are both small, speed backs though McClease is a few inches taller than Coleman. In a spread offense, McClease seems to be built like someone who could do a lot of damage. McClease proved to be a hard worker this past spring, climbing from probably fourth to second on the depth chart while getting some playing time with the first team offense in the Spring Game.
One of the best things about McClease is the fact that he is a solid pass catcher, something that is an important skill for running backs to have in Justin Fuente's offense. McClease has the speed to get some separation from a linebacker or a slower safety that would try to cover him while also being someone that is made to be in space as a speed back.
The biggest factor is McClease's speed which fits the spread offense well, allowing for the Hokies to line him up in shotgun to run outside the tackle or even line up in the slot to either be used on a run or quick pass. McClease definitely seems to fit the profile of a third down back for the Hokies that could also backup Travon McMillian in that role though McMillian has shown some solid pass catching skills in the past.
Even after his big spring, McClease doesn't seem likely to supplant the talented McMillian this fall but McClease also woke up McMillian some with the way he took some playing time with the first team offense. The fact that McClease can legitimately push McMillian is not only a good sign about Virginia Tech's depth but also is a healthy thing for the running back corps, forcing each player to keep working hard knowing that there are no guarantees.
Deshawn McClease emerged this spring as someone that is ready to be the next redshirt freshman to break out. McClease might not have as big of an impact as Bucky Hodges or Travon McMillian had in their redshirt freshman seasons but he definitely seems ready to be a playmaker in Justin Fuente's offense at least as a third down and change-of-pace speed back.