In an effort to keep even the most hardcore Miami fan up to date on their favorite players, SOTU will be running a Player Profile series. In these posts, our writers will profile two players from each position that they think should get more face time. They will recap their previous year, or in some cases, preview what may be to come. That way, when the season get's here, you hopefully will have a new found love for the team on the field.
Sophomore - Running Back - 5'9" 196 lbs - Miami, Florida
Miami's own Duke Johnson had the opportunity to play anywhere else in the country, and the NCAA gave him a very good reason to do just that. The Miami Norland running back gave all the usual reasons like staying close to family for his verbal commitment to Miami; but in an age when "playing close to home" means going to school anywhere from 500- 1500 miles away, things seemed too good to be true. Duke's recruitment process quickly made him a Cane favorite well before he stepped on campus. Florida's "Mr. Football" made himself a valuable asset to Miami while on the All-Star and 7on7 camp rounds, selling the school to teammates. Any hope rival schools may have had due to the ongoing NCAA investigation (and its impact on Miami's future) were dashed with his comments stating "as long as they have MY scholarship, I'll be a Cane". He made it official with his letter of intent (to the delight of hometown fans), making him the most recent Norland alum to cause dancing in the streets of South Florida.
Coming to Miami as a running back, you already have huge shoes to fill. If you come in as a hometown phenom, however, good luck with the expectations. With senior workhorse Mike James slated as the starter, most figured Duke to make his mark on special teams, while getting limited touches at running back - because, you know - he's small. His first game as a Hurricane was against Boston College, and he only got seven carries, but that was all he needed to gain 135 yards and 2 touchdowns. Seven carries was all he needed to ignite a fan base; have the nation take notice; and get the attention of one of the greatest athletes of our lifetime. After that, like most euphoria inducing drugs, it was a blur of "did that just happen!?" moments that included a 368 all purpose yard game against pain in the ass Virginia. That game fetched him an ACC freshman all purpose and Miami single game yardage record. His production did take a hit during the season as he dealt with a sprained ankle and turf toe. Neither injury caused him to miss any games but he was far from 100%.
While it's important to remember he was a true freshman, there were a few games that he wasn't as successful rushing the ball as he might have liked. In the end, however, Duke Johnson would break Clinton Portis' freshman rushing record that had stood for the past thirteen years, ending the season with 947 yards and 10 touchdowns. Johnson ended the season with the second most all purpose yards in program history, a total of 2,070 with 13 touchdowns. For a full breakdown of his stats and accolades, click here. His off season was just as productive - nabbing ACC Rookie Of The Year, Offensive and Overall, Second Team All ACC at RB and Specialist; and he was named to the Walter Camp All American Second Team.
So What's Ahead For The Duke?
Looking forward to Duke's sophomore season, a main concern will be whether or not he can take the abuse that comes with being the featured back. An increase in touches will also increase the amount of punishment that he will encounter over the season. Well, if you got a chance to see the Miami spring game or any of the scrimmages, you got a chance to see Duke 2.0. He is reaping the benefits of hard work with the U-Tough off season program and great genetics, putting on eight pounds of what seems to be all muscle. To answer your question, no he hasn't sacrificed any speed from what I have seen. This extra weight will be critical in making it through a full season of wear and tear with an unproven group of backs behind him.
Another question mark will be his role in the offense now that new Offensive Coordinator and twitter master James Coley has come aboard. The former FSU OC didn't call plays up there, but I remember the running game he implemented working all right against the Canes a few years ago (Sorry to bring that up). Duke will also be working with a new running backs coach, former Cane Hurlie Brown. Both hires add a bit of uncertainty, but the overall feeling is that they are both good hires.
Where there isn't an issue is the experienced, GIGANTIC ASS OFFENSIVE LINE that will be clearing the way for Duke to do his thing. Another big advantage for him, and the rest of the backs, will be senior QB Steven Morris and his stable of talented, athletic receivers that will keep defenses from stacking the box. Look for Johnson to have a big year, even if he doesn't have the same number of big play runs of 50 yards. His larger, stronger frame, running behind a solid offensive line, will hopefully lead to a more consistent ground game.
From an entertainment standpoint, we will miss him as he will most likely no longer be returning kickoffs, but I think we can all agree he is far too valuable to our overall offensive plans to get hurt returning a kick. The lack of experience at running back, combined with our plethora of speed guys able to return kicks, make this an easy decision.
While not handling the returning duties this year will hamper his all purpose yards, look for him to be atop of every running back watch list, and to keep his name in the Heisman conversation. He will also be taking over a leadership role among the running backs, with Mike James no longer being there. As a true sophomore it shows just how respected he is, and the work ethic that he shows will no doubt be a positive influence to a young, unproven backfield.
Lucky for us, the NFL has a rule in place that will keep Duke around for next season as well. Talent like his only shows up so often, so be sure to enjoy him while he's here.