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Is Miami ready for a changing of the guard at RB?

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With the running back competition truly open, the Canes’ rising sophomore Don Chaney, Jr. has a good chance to earn the role.

NCAA Football: Miami at Duke Nell Redmond-USA TODAY Sports

We know the history of the great backfields in Miami Hurricanes history. From Ottis Anderson to Melvin Bratton to Edgerrin James, and onto the great backfields of the early 2000s with Clinton Portis, Frank Gore, Najeh Davenport, James Jackson, and Willis McGahee, Miami has had some absolute monsters in the backfield.

An argument could be made that Miami’s 2021 backfield combo of Donald Chaney, Jr., Cam Harris, Jaylan Knighton, and Thad Franklin are the best the school has ever had with the exception of 2000-2001, at least ability-wise. That’s a ton of still-to-be-tapped talent in the backfield.

And last season, it seemed that Rhett Lashlee was intent on spreading the ball around, with Miami going with a relative committee approach at different times among Harris and the freshmen.

However, this week, Lashlee noted this week that he believes in having a true lead back.

Will the lion’s share of the work be given to a single back the way Lashlee indicated? Let’s look at his recent history.

In Lashlee’s last two years in SMU, he had a tailback with a clear edge as far as carries. In 2018, Braeden West (138) outpaced Ke’Mon Freeman (75) and Xavier Jones (69) in carries. However, in 2019, It was Jones (244) who outpaced Freeman (122) by double the margin. West was a senior in 2018, and while Jones and Freeman were juniors, it was Jones who went from third to taking the bell cow role with a large volume share the following year.

At Auburn in 2013, Lashlee and Gus Malzahn leaned on the uber-talented and clear-cut top back Tre Mason with 317 carries, followed by Cameron Artis-Payne’s next most 91. In 2014, the senior Artis-Payne took an even greater volume share with 303, followed by Corey Grant’s 60.

In 2015, sophomore Peyton Barber led the way (238) over freshman Jovon Robinson (117), freshman Kerryon Johnson (47), sophomore Roc Thomas (43), and senior Ricardo Louis (29). In 2016, Kamryn Pettway (209) and Johnson (182) were relativele 1A and 1B options for the Tigers.

So, what Lashlee’s resume at Auburn and SMU shows is..........that it’s kind of a mixed bag. When he’s had a clear stud, like Mason, he’s ridden him like a true workhorse back. But when he’s had a number of young, talented backs, he’s still found a way to get them involved.

Last season in Coral Gables kind of followed suit with the lead back/involved complimentary back history that we’ve seen from Lashlee’s offense. Harris led all running backs with 126 attempts, with Chaney, Jr. and Knighton following at 68 and 52, respectively. That’s not dissimilar to the percentage breakdown in Lashlee’s first season at SMU.

So the real question becomes: who will take advantage of the opportunity? If I was a betting man, I would put that money on Chaney, Jr.

Harris was the beneficiary of more carries early last season, and under Diaz, Miami has had a recent stigma of giving the nod to seniority when the competitors are close in ability.

However, Chaney, Jr. just looked like a different specimen when running the ball last season. His hard running in the second half of the UVa win last year really stood out to me. He runs through tacklers and uses his strong legs to push piles. He’s what I’ve referred to before as a closer. A back who will punish a tired defense late in games and carry out that 4 minute offense to perfection.

That being said, it’s not just his physicality, but his total package of speed and power that intrigues me as a three-down type of back. As far as natural ability, I think he has the most in the RB room. He can blow players up and run away from them. That’s what a lead back should do. Don’t get me wrong; I think Harris is a capable lead runner as well in the respect of being fast and physical. I just think Chaney, Jr. runs a hair more explosively and with an ounce more pop. Creates less negative runs. He also came on as a receiver, too, leading the backfield in receiving yards (143) and ypc (13.0) for the season.

But the bottom line is that, to my untrained eye, Chaney, Jr. the most talented. If this is an open competition and the best player truly gets the nod following a competition, who do you all think will earn the lead back role?