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Miami Hurricanes 2020 position preview: Running Backs

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The ‘Canes have two veterans and two elite freshmen to carry the rock in 2020.

NCAA Football: Miami at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Running backs are smart to move on from college to the NFL after three years. The wear and tear they get from being tackled by 250 pound freight train linebackers or having to pass protect on blitzes or even stunts and twists that put a 190 pounder up against a 300 pound defensive tackle.

Their bodies take on damage that often sees RB’s move on before their time is due. Miami’s had that happen quite often over the years with Clinton Portis, Willis McGahee, Mark Walton and Deejay Dallas have all launched pro careers with eligibility remaining.

Miami Hurricanes Beat Nebraska Cornhuskers for National Championship Photo by Jon Soohoo/WireImage

Heading into 2020, Miami has one truly experienced back in Cam’Ron Harris, one part-timer in Robert Burns, and two highly regarded freshmen in Don Chaney and Jaylan Knighton. Losing Dallas definitely hurts the Hurricanes. The every down qualities Dallas portrayed are hard to replace- Deejay could run between the tackles, break a home run, catch the ball, and pass protect. Dallas was drafted by the Seahawks in the 4th round of the 2020 NFL Draft.

Returning players

Cam’ron Harris (formerly Davis) signed with the ‘Canes in 2018 as four-star blue chip prospect. Harris, a Miami-Carol City alumnus, is a five-foot-ten, 210 pound junior. Harris has ran for eight career touchdowns and hauled in another two through the air. Harris ran for 576 yards behind Dallas last season, and has averaged more than five yards per carry in both 2018 and 2019.

The other veteran back is Robert Burns. Burns, a former three-star prospect from Gulliver Prep, has scored one career touchdown in eight games. The five-foot-eleven, 219 pound back was oft-injured in high school and hasn’t made an impact in Coral Gables.

10-game projected production: Harris 600 yards rushing, 8 touchdowns.

Burns 100 yards, no scores.

The Freshmen

Jaylan Knighton was the third highest rated signee in the ‘Canes 2020 class. Knighton was the 105th rated player in the country and 10th best RB in the nation per 247 Sports. Knighton is a home run threat on every play and isn’t quite as big as Chaney or Harris, but has elite breakaway speed. At five-foot-nine, 195 pounds Knighton will need to put on a little weight in order to withstand the brutality of the college game. Knighton has everything coaches want in a RB recruit.

Knighton has elite balance, burst, and the ability to be a big threat in the passing game. Rhett Lashlee is going to have a field day with a talent like Knighton being on campus and at his disposal. If the first play on his highlight tape isn’t jaw dropping enough for you, I’m not sure what you expect.

Don Chaney signed with Miami this winter as a five-foot-eleven, 205 pounder out of Belen Jesuit Prep in Miami, FL. The four-star prospect was the 4th highest rated ‘Canes signee per 247 in the class of 2020. The Belen wing-t scheme will put Chaney behind the 8-ball on understanding the NCAA Offense, pass protection schemes, and the vision and feel necessary to run zone-based blocking schemes. Luckily, much of the running back position is natural instinct and DNA, and Chaney has that in spades.

Chaney mixes power with burst and straight line speed to run through and then by defenders. Track and Field skills don’t always translate directly to the football field but they can’t hurt when you’re also producing on the gridiron.

10-game projected production: Knighton 400 yards from scrimmage, 3 touchdowns.

Chaney 100 rushing yards, one touchdown.

How can the RB’s improve their game?

Coaches often rely on the adage of, “That’s just how we’ve always done it.” I’ve seen that regarding all facets of football, such as: practicing in full pads every day (I prefer shorts and volleyball knee pads to pants), chasing max numbers in the weight room (I prefer to chase transferable results like improved movement patters), running 300’s (I prefer speed based workouts to long distance runs), and even how drills are designed and ran (open versus closed-ended).

Of course the proper strength and conditioning model has to be utilized for the sport being played. A running back traditionally maxes an explosive carry to around 20 yards. If the average play is five seconds, and the average time between plays is 35 seconds- a running back should be training to cover five seconds worth of yardage at 100% intensity (not necessarily 100% speed) with a 35 second rest interval to match the energy system (Phosphagen).

Christian McCaffrey switching his movement training from 300’s and 110’s or “conditioning” to max speed output is awesome. McCaffrey figured out that his old methods were dipping into the glycolytic energy system rather than Phosphagen. This means he was training his body for the wrong sport.

The weight room approach an athlete takes also needs to reflect what athletics requires. The idea of sports-specific weight training isn’t real, so if you’re taking your son or daughter to a “basketball only weight room” session- it’s a scam.

Weights and RPR

Above, I absolutely love Reflexive Performance Reset. I’ve been using it for some time and feel completely different after RPR on a given day, but also in general from starting to do RPR at all. Rather than 30 min on the foam roller, five min of RPR can do wonders for the human body.

How would I program the weight room for a running back? I would invest a little more time spent outside working on speed, agility, and change-of-direction than in the weight room, but a healthy amount of olympic based weight lifting, too. A running back has to carry the ball and fight through tacklers. The hips are the most important part of life, athletics, and especially RB play. Backs should be doing all of the parts-of-whole of the power clean, clean and jerk and snatch; as well as unilateral lifts, yoga, jumps and drops.

Position specific

Two aspects of running back drills I absolutely hate for movement purposes are bag drills and the amount of closed-ended drills ran in general.

Running back coaches absolutely love having guys step over bags when they never step over a bag and do not utilize that running mechanism in the game. I like that the coaches are getting after the ball and addressing ball security, but stepping over bags is an old cliche that hurts a back’s mechanics. Yet, almost everyone does them without a reason.

Also, the drill defeats what a RB needs to learn and understand about the position. The RB position is based on read-and-react, especially with the amount of zone schemes being ran at the high school, NCAA, and NFL levels. The drill above is closed-ended. In other words, the back knows when he’s starting and exactly where to go to end. There’s no reading the play, reacting and adjusting on the fly which is exactly what football is!

During play, when does a RB do the drill you’re seeing in the GIF below? Miami did a lot of bag drills under Ice Harris (watch that crap here).

Instead, I would prefer the open-ended drills being performed with the same patterns as an actual game. Think about the difference in the drill below to the ones above. The RB doesn’t know which way he’s going to have to cut pre-snap. He’s forced to read the “defenders” and react in real-time, using an adjust-cut method and then accelerate to finish the drill. No bags, just grass. This will improve his cognitive and visual abilities while improving his running as well.

Below, this drill also offers an open-ended, read and react style. The back has to cut off the ‘defender.’ I would actually like it even more if a GA or student assistant was at that spin cone whacking at the football to force that spin rather than have it be a pre-snap guarantee.

Miami has acquired top flight talent at the running back position in Harris, Knighton and Chaney. Now it’s time for the ‘Canes coaches and strength staff to develop potential into production.