Oct 5, 2013; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Miami Hurricanes running back Duke Johnson (8) runs up the middle during the second half against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at Sun Life Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Miami Hurricanes Football Preview: Running Backs

The talk around Canes camp this year is almost all about the quarterback situation, and rightfully so, but it’s also taken away the attention from the running backs. The Canes bring back a really talented backfield, led by Heisman-hopeful Duke Johnson. The offense began to struggle last season when the Canes couldn’t pound the ball, but with the talent and depth this season, running the rock should be a strength for Miami.

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The Star: Duke Johnson

It’s no secret that Duke Johnson was Miami’s best player last season. Stephen Morris had a poor season, and at that point Johnson became the only person capable of moving the ball on a consistent basis. Unfortunately, Johnson went down with a broken ankle against FSU and the offense suffered immensely without him. The Canes rushing attack averaged 198 yards a game with Duke in the rotation, while only amassing 98 yards a game without him (including the bowl game.) That number was also helped by Stacy Coley’s 73 yard touchdown run against Pittsburgh. If it wasn’t for that, that number would plummet significantly.

The importance of Johnson is not taken for granted by most, if not all Canes fans, and the success this season will again depend on how well he performs and how much help he gets within the offense. Miami is going to be trotting out a new quarterback at least for the first few weeks of the season (if not all) but the offense will continue to go as Duke Johnson goes. The good news about this year’s team is that there’s a lot more depth behind number 8, and that should help keep him fresh for the long haul.

The Big Back: Gus Edwards

Gus Edwards had a productive freshman season for Miami. Edwards appeared in all 13 games last season for Miami and became the primary backup as soon as Duke Johnson went down to injury. He’ll be considered more of a goal-line or short-yardage back for Miami this season, but he’ll lay some punishing blows to defenses with his 6’2 235 pound frame.

Although Edwards’ longest career runs stands at 29 yards, he’s averaging just over five yards a carry on 66 attempts. Those are solid numbers that should improve this year with the help of a young, but talented offensive line. Best case scenario: Gus makes third-and-short a little less of nail biter and keeps the chains moving. The more time the explosive offense spends on the field, the higher the probability of them scoring.

The New Guy: Joseph Yearby

Joseph Yearby is a highly-touted running back out of Miami Central high school. Despite sharing the workload with now FSU’s Dalvin Cook, Yearby never seized to stand out and produce a lot of “wow” moments. Everybody that watched Miami Central play the last couple of seasons will utter the words “amazing” and “special” when talking about Yearby, and that’s something Canes fans hope will transfer all the way to Coral Gables. The expectations of Yearby seem to be really high, but they should probably be taper down a bit as Yearby is also coming off an ankle injury that forced him to miss his last few high school games, and the Miami spring game.

What I think we could expect from Yearby early on in the season is a good backup to both Duke Johnson and Gus Edwards. Obviously Johnson is the number one back and he’s going to be on the field a lot, but the staff will undoubtedly find room for Yearby to get his workload. I think as the season goes on and he gets more familiar with the system, and comfortable with his ankle, his production and carries will increase significantly. If the Miami Central standout can put up a really good freshman season, the Canes will have one heck of a rushing attack.

The Rest Of The Guys: De’Andre Johnson, Walter Tucker, Trayone Gray

De’Andre Johnson is a player that nobody really expects much out of this season. It’s an uphill climb for him to get any reps at the running back position and barring any major injuries to a couple of the guys in front of him, he won’t be getting many carries.

Walter Tucker has always been that intriguing player amongst Miami fans.  Tucker is a big guy at 6’0 218 pounds, but he also moves exceptionally well. He’s part of the track and field team at Miami, and he’s pretty good at it, too. The staff initially brought him in as a linebacker, but then was moved to running/full back, but due to the dismissals of some players, Tucker is back getting some work in with the linebackers. Golden has said that Tucker is still considered a full back, but he’ll also be getting looks and possible reps at linebacker for the Canes. That should tell you what sort of an athlete Walter Tucker is. Whatever position he ends up playing, we all hope he excels in it.

Trayone Gray and the buzz that surrounded him are finally enrolled in Miami and he’s ready to go. We also listed Gray in our wide receiver position preview, but the staff is giving him a look at running back first. Whether Gray’s long-term position is at running back remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure, and that’s that the staff will find a place to have him on the field. Whether that’s as a running back, wide receiver or even as a wildcat style quarterback. He’s fun to watch.

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Any time you have a talent like Duke Johnson on your team, you’re better off for it. Luckily for Miami, the talent doesn’t stop with Duke. I’ve always liked Gus Edwards as a back and I think he’s going to be really good in his sophomore season, even if it’s just as a big back. Hoping he stays healthy and that his ankle isn’t a big issue, Joe Yearby should be an upgrade from last year’s backups and should make a big contribution, especially throughout the middle part of the season. If you want to add in a talent like Trayone Gray into this group, then you really have something special.

The offense is going to have to get creative, especially if the quarterback play is shaky, and this is the group in which they’re going to do so. You should all be excited.

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Tags: 2014 Football Preview Duke Johnson Gus Edwards Joseph Yearby Miami Hurricanes Walter Tucker

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