On Sunday evening, huge news broke as the University of Miami announced RB Mark Walton would have ankle surgery. Head Coach Mark Richt told journalists on his weekly conference call that Walton’s injury is season-ending.
UPDATE: Mark Richt on his weekly conference call says RB Mark Walton's injury is season-ending. Huge loss for Miami https://t.co/YetxOmcQJo— StateOfTheU.com (@TheStateOfTheU) October 8, 2017
This is huge news for Miami. Depth was already thin at RB, and Walton was the most indispensable player on the roster. Now that he’s gone, Miami will have to reshuffle things at the RB position.
New Starter: sophomore Travis Homer
A lightly used sophomore from West Palm Beach, FL, Homer is now the man at RB for the Canes. A 4-star recruit from Oxbridge Academy in the 2016 recruiting class, Homer has good size at 5’11” 195bs, and runs like a man bigger than that size.
As a recruit, Homer showed good all-around skills, along with toughness and speed. He broke Oxbridge academy records in his time there, and scored several touchdowns longer than 80 yards in his senior season.
In his time at Miami, Homer has been lower on the depth chart. He was 4th string as a freshman, but the backup this year, although Walton still received the majority of snaps and carries. To this point of his collegiate career, Homer has 32 carries for 256 yards and 3 TDs. The vast majority of those numbers have come this season, as Homer only had 7 carries for 44 yards as a freshman in 2016.
It will be interesting to see how Mark Richt tweaks the offense with Homer as the starting RB as opposed to Walton. But, rest assured that Homer has the athleticism, talent, and skill to be a good RB for Miami as the Canes move through the rest of their schedule.
Bigger Backup roles: Trayone Gray, DeeJay Dallas, and Robert Burns
If you simply move everybody else up the depth chart, that means redshirt junior Trayone Gray and true freshman Robert Burns are you new back up and 3rd string RBs, respectively. Gray has talent, but has been inconsistent in his Miami career. Burns was a breakout star as a sophomore in HS both on the field and camp circuit, but spent much of the last 2 years of his HS career, and the beginning of his college career, injured.
Even though he’s a bigger back at 6’2” 235lbs, Gray’s main asset is his speed. If he gets a crease, he’s gone. Coaches from the previous staff and current have been working with Gray to get him to be consistent in his technique, particularly relative to lowering his pads on runs and pass protection. The time has come to see if those adjustments have been made.
For Burns, he’s unproven but very talented, and all potential. He had the highest SPARQ athleticism score EVER (has been since broken) at a Nike Training Camp after his sophomore year. That would have to be the highlight of his career to this point. He was injured for most of his last 2 years in HS, ending with only 9 carries for 53 yards and 1 kickoff return for a 95 yard TD as a senior. He’s been very injury prone, which is obviously not a good thing considering Miami’s lack of depth at RB, and hasn’t played yet this season. It seems, however, that it’s time to remove Burns’ redshirt and see if the kid can translate that potential into production.
The wildcard here is true freshman DeeJay Dallas. A multifaceted athlete, Dallas played option QB (but threw some), RB, WR, DB, KR and PR in high school at Glynn Academy in Brunswick, GA. The 4-star recruit was heavily pursued by many schools, including Alabama, but chose Miami early in the process and stuck with the Canes. There was much debate about which position Dallas might play when he enrolled at Miami in January, but the coaching staff quickly decided to put him at Wide Receiver and leave him there, even in the face of limited depth at DB and RB, the other positions Dallas could have most likely played.
With Walton gone and depth very thin, Dallas could join the RB position, at least on a part-time basis, to add depth and talent. Obviously, he’s never played there in college, but he’s only a freshman so it’s not like he’s very far removed from playing there, which he did in HS.
Changes/Tweaks to the offense?
This is on Mark Richt and not the players, but I’m interested to see what changes, if any, are made to the offense? Mark Walton is a great running back, but speed is not his best asset. With Homer, Gray, and Dallas all having more speed at the RB position now, what will CMR do to get those guys in the open field?
Additionally, how will Richt update the passing game? I have faith in Homer and the rest of the players named to be a solid running game, but with a wide variety of top talent at WR/TE, maybe Miami looks to the passing game just a bit more to open up the run.
Lastly, someone tweeted me saying that Jeff Thomas or Mike Harley, Miami’s fastest offensive skill players, could get involved in jet sweeps, reverses, or other offensive plays (one guy even asked if Thomas could be Miami’s version of Tavon Austin). I think those are possible, but it’s up to Richt to update the playbook to add that level of creativity. I don’t think that’s going to happen — we’ve seen what a Mark Richt offense looks like — but if it did, I think that would offer more assistance to the run game, which could need it now that Walton is gone.
Those are my quick thoughts on where Miami now stands at RB. I know you have thoughts too, and I can’t wait to hear them in the comments below.