The last three seasons, there has been no question who the starting running back for the Miami Hurricanes would be. Duke Johnson rushed for a school-record 3,519 rushing yards and 26 touchdowns before departing for the NFL.
Instead of trying to replace Johnson with just one running back, the Hurricanes are expected to use a committee of ball carriers, including Joseph Yearby, Gus Edwards and Mark Walton.
Last season Yearby was the Canes’ second-leading rusher with 509 yards, a touchdown and an impressive 5.9 yards per carry average. Yearby is more of a shifty running back, but he has put on weight so he can take on more of the load.
“We gave him a goal weight of 195, and he just kept lifting and getting stronger and bigger," said head coach Al Golden “He’s moving really well at that weight.’’
Running backs coach Tim “Ice” Harris also has a lot of confidence in Yearby. Harris thinks Yearby can handle the load and grind of the season.
“He’s turning himself into an every-down back, Harris said. “From all the things that have been happening this summer to the two days of practice that we just went through, he really is putting himself in position to say that he can be an every-down back.”
Gus Edwards (6-2, 238) is more of the power back with deceptive speed. Yearby says he has a similar style to Edwards.
“We’re similar, said Yearby. "He’s a lot bigger, but we both got the same cuts, same speed, so there isn’t too much of a difference.”
Edwards rushed for 349 yards and finished second on the team with six touchdowns last season. He got a lot of first-team reps in the spring with Yearby suspended for a violation of team rules.
Despite losing Johnson, Edwards believes the Canes’ running backs have a lot of potential.
“I think we’re great as a unit. We have a lot of running backs. [Mark] Walton just showed what he brings to the team and he’s ready right now. We have great depth and just as much depth as we had last year.”
Walton is the highly prized freshman from Booker T. Washington High School in Miami. As a senior last season, Walton rushed for 1,472 yards and 22 touchdowns, while helping Booker T. Washington win a state championship.
Offensive coordinator James Coley believes Walton can be a contributor in the Canes’ offense this season.
“He reminds me a lot of Joe [Yearby], but he just didn’t have the broken ankle, and he’s a lot stronger than Joe was his freshman year,” said Coley. He’s about 198 [pounds] right now, so he’s not a small running back.”
If Miami can find solid starters on its offensive line, there is no reason the team can’t get close to the same production Johnson had last year. It will take more of a collective effort but Yearby, Edwards and the true freshman Walton certainly have enough talent to keep Miami’s rushing attack clicking on all cylinders.
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, Pro Player Insiders and is a reporter for Sports Talk Florida. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.