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Hurricanes Seek More From Johnson

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Miami will gladly trade one yard fewer per carry for an additional 75 touches for Duke Johnson this season, but the small back must stay healthy. Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images.
Miami will gladly trade one yard fewer per carry for an additional 75 touches for Duke Johnson this season, but the small back must stay healthy. Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images.

Getting more out of Duke Johnson is high on the priority list for the Miami Hurricanes heading into the 2013 season.

It’s hard to argue that Johnson’s freshman year wasn’t a stellar success. Johnson rushed for 947 yards (a Miami freshman record) on 139 carries (6.8 yards per carry) and caught 27 passes for 221 yards. He possessed an electric quality that the Miami offense has lacked for years.

However, there is still plenty of room for improvement with Johnson, and he will be relied upon far more this year to be an every-down back. The depth chart at running back is littered with inexperienced, but talented, athletes. Johnson will share carries with Dallas Crawford and others, but Johnson will need to be an every-down back for the Hurricanes to be successful. Can he handle the increased load?

A good comparison for Johnson is Alabama running back Eddie Lacy. Lacy was behind Trent Richardson for his first two seasons, but once he was thrust into the starting lineup in 2012 he was completely ready for the responsibility. The junior rushed for 1,322 yards on 204 carries and doubled his receptions (22) from the previous season.

Johnson is a different style of runner than Lacy, but is slated for a similar increase in responsibility. His 6.8 YPC is likely to go down in 2013, but if Johnson can catch more than two passes a game and increases his workload in the running game, he will possess even more value than he did a year ago.

Size is one of the biggest concerns with Johnson. At 5-foot-9, 183 pounds, it’s hard to imagine him being a 20-carry per-game man that wears down opposing defenses. Gone is Mike James, who was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 6th round of April’s draft. James wasn’t a star, but he did carry the ball 147 times and help wear down the defense for Johnson.

“We just have to be smart,” coach Al Golden told Jorge Milian of the Palm Beach Post. “He’s a guy that’s very versatile so you can get in a routine where you keep drawing up plays for him. You have to be careful that you don’t overdo it.”

The passing offense should aid Johnson’s cause. Quarterback Stephen Morris is a solid, smart veteran with plenty of playmakers on the outside. He put the ball in the air 421 times last year and threw just seven interceptions. Defenses will not be able to focus solely on Johnson, and that should keep eight-man fronts to a minimum.

Johnson also needs to work on his consistency. Although he had plenty of highlight runs, he was stuffed at the line just as often. In big games against Notre Dame (eight carries for 22 yards), North Carolina (14 carries for 47 yards) and Florida State (nine carries for 27 yards), Johnson failed to make a major impact. This is nitpicking because he was a true freshman last year, but this will have to be improved if the Hurricanes want to have a dominating run game.

Johnson is an amazing talent with blazing speed and surprising toughness for his size. He is not a top-10 Heisman hopeful for nothing; he is on the verge of becoming a special player once he makes small improvements. Hurricanes fans should be excited he will be suiting up for at least two more years.