With Lamar Miller heading off to play on Sundays, Miami has a big hole to fill in its backfield come September. Miller was one of the closest things to a complete college running back you'll ever see and will be very difficult to replace. Speed, power, vision, home-run-on-any-given-play kind of player. Special. And we really aren't sure what we have with junior Eduardo Clements, who will battle the steady, if not unspectacular Mike James and converted cornerback Dallas Crawford for the starting job.
However, what the Canes lost in Miller, they might have gained in a pair of new signees.
Miami Norland's Randy "Duke" Johnson (and this is the last time I will probably ever write "Randy"), a longtime Miami commitment, comes into Coral Gables this fall with as much hype and expectation as any Hurricane back in recent memory, and we know how ridiculous the Canes' track record of backs has been. He will be counted on to bring explosiveness out of the backfield that the team might seem to lack right now. Conversely, Venice High running back Danny Dillard comes in as maybe the team's biggest tailback right off the bat at 6'2 205 pounds. He's a guy who won't make a lot of defenders miss, but they might not be happy that they didn't miss him when they hit him.
5'9" 180 pounds
Rivals - 5 stars; #1 Overall All-Purpose Running Back; #30 Overall Prospect
ESPN - #6 Running Back; #35 Overall Prospect
Johnson, along with CB Tracy Howard, is universally considered the crown jewel of Al Golden's 2012 class, and is representative of the "great job" (Jimmy Johnson's words to me on Twitter) that Golden did keeping South Florida talent at home this year (even though Duke committed in 2010).
What Johnson did on the field his senior season was nothing short of legendary. He rushed for 2087 yards on only 207 carries (10.08 yards per carry) with 29 touchdowns, carrying Miami Norland to a state championship. He eclipsed 200 yards rushing in 5 games, including an eye-popping 375 yards in a 35-27 state semifinal win over Palmetto. He was named Mr. Football for Florida Class 5A.
Johnson will step in immediately and compete for significant playing time. Given how gifted of a player he is, it's definitely possible to see him start early on. Some might question his size, but for a guy who is listed at 180 pounds, he ran between the tackles well in high school. Even if James or Clements earns the starting job week one (not saying that's the case, just that they have more experience), I'd expect Golden and Jedd Fisch to get creative in finding ways to get Johnson on the field from day one, maybe in a Reggie Bush kind of role, given Johnson's athleticism and superior speed. Whether Johnson will earn the starting tailback job and how he'll fit into the rotation will be fleshed out in spring ball and fall workouts. We're all just reaching for straws until then.
Johnson also can catch the ball out of the backfield pretty well. Given that Stephen Morris will likely be taking over the reigns at quarterback (again, we'll see in spring/fall practice) without Tommy Streeter, Travis Benjamin, LaRon Byrd, and Chase Ford to throw to, Johnson becomes a prime candidate to become Morris' safety valve. It's hard not to imagine good things happening when Johnson slides out of the backfield on a slip screen behind Brandon Linder and Jon Feliciano. That certainly could be a dynamic option for Fisch to work with.
Overall, Johnson appears to have all the tools to become the next great running back at the U.
6'2" 205 pounds
Rivals - 3 stars; N/A - running back; N/A - overall prospect
ESPN - #128 running back; N/A - overall prospect
Dillard doesn't come in with the accolades and jaw-dropping stats of Johnson, but he still drew a large number of offers from BCS programs, including Illinois, Georgia Tech, Purdue, Pitt, UNC, NC State, and Boston College. Dillard rushed for 952 yards his senior year coming into a playoff game against Manatee, which Dillard and Venice dropped 34-21.
Dillard has the size that you would typically expect for a between-the-tackles running back. Watching his tape, he's a runner who won't make a lot of guys miss, but he seems to like to put his head down, take contact, and fall forward for tough yards. He's not a guy who will likely make much of an impact in the passing game, but, one who could succeed in pass protection given his size and disposition to take contact, presuming he can pick up on the blocking schemes.
And he should have plenty of time to absorb them, as it's hard to see him making an early impact given the state of the 2012 depth chart. Probably not anything beyond the occasional short yardage work right now, with James still on the roster for one more year, unless he blows everyone's mind in offseason workouts. It wouldn't surprise me to see him redshirt, as Miami will already have three backs in their running back rotation, and a fourth if Crawford makes the full-time switch successfully. At 6'2", Dillard still has a little room to fill out and add a bit more bulk to his frame.
If there is a cockeyed optimistic approach to take with Dillard, it's that he hopefully develops into a smash to Duke Johnson's dash.