WEDNESDAY BUZZ COLUMN
Is Duke Johnson likely to stay on this insane pace of touchdowns and all-purpose yards? The odds are against it, considering UM wants to keep him fresh, and considering the competition stiffens.
But to appreciate this special player and the historical significance of what he has achieved through one quarter of the season, consider this:
If he maintained this pace of 212.6 all-purpose yards per game, Johnson would shatter Philadelphia Eagles and former Missouri receiver Jeremy Maclin’s NCAA record for a freshman (198.3). If he maintained this 24-touchdown pace, he would eclipse Marshall Faulk’s NCAA freshman record, by one.
His pace of 2552 all-purpose yards would easily surpass Willis McGahee’s UM record (2108, set in 2002 as a sophomore) – which is well ahead of No. 2 Ottis Anderson’s 1708.
For comparison, consider that Clinton Portis had 882 all-purpose yards as a freshman, Frank Gore 624, Edgerrin James 505 and McGahee 356. Johnson said Tuesday he has no idea what his statistics are and has no interest in keeping track of them.
But UM’s former star running backs are paying close attention to UM's newest prodigy. With his speed, Johnson reminds Dolphins rookie Lamar Miller of, well, Lamar Miller. “He could be as good” as me, Miller said, though he’s unwilling to concede Johnson might eventually be better.
Portis watches Johnson and sees “a young Clinton Portis.” Johnson said Tuesday of all the great UM backs, he believes Portis is most similar – “just the way we run and maneuver in and out of cuts…. I’m an elusive, shifty, quicker back.”
Portis, on his weekly WQAM-560 show with Jorge Sedano, said Monday: “My running backs coach called me about this kid when he was in high school and said, ‘I kid you not. This kid is just like you.’ I like him not because he reminds me of myself. I like him because he’s confident, he’s cocky, he backs it up. This kid has six touchdowns. My freshman year, I had eight. That should be broken next week.”
Johnson is averaging nine rushing attempts and 14.6 touches per game, but Portis said he should be getting 16 handoffs per game. His 9.2 average per carry is comparable to Gore’s remarkable 9.1 as a freshman.
“I hope they give him the ball [more], because the more you put the ball in his hands, the more exciting he gets,” Portis said.
Green Bay Packers executive Alonzo Highsmith, who went higher in the draft (third overall) than any running back in UM history, said Johnson is most like Reggie Bush.
“Every time he touches it, you’re thinking he may score,” Highsmith said, noting unlike the great UM backs, Johnson can return kicks. “The last time Miami played, the one time I got up, he scored. I’ve learned not to get up.
“He’s a special athlete. He’s an edge player, but I like his toughness. You don’t want him running too much between the tackles now, but that’s something he will develop later. It took Reggie Bush a long time to learn to run inside. If there’s a back I would emulate, it’s Reggie.
“He’ll have a great career. The only fear with a kid like that is you get a bunch of agents talking to him.”
Ask teammates about amazes them most about Johnson, and you get a variety of answers. Brandon McGee points to the day this summer when he did a back flip after running 14 consecutive 40-yard dashes. Phillip Dorsett said, “He makes a cut when he’s not even looking at the hole. You wonder, ‘How does he do that?”
Former UM assistant Don Soldinger, who coached many of the great UM backs, said Johnson is “as good as anyone. He reminds me of Frank Gore – he looks like a natural and has a knack for reading defenses.”
If UM continues to give up a lot of points (Bethune Cookman aside), Johnson figures to get a lot of kick returns, unless teams start kicking away from him. He has fielded nine of UM’s 14 kickoff returns (33.9 average).
Former UM star Devin Hester spoke with Johnson’s mother and relayed to Johnson that he should “look for the crease” on kickoffs, and that “it’s not always going to be outside.”
If Johnson continued to average about 100 yards per game on kickoffs, that would require him to produce another 100 rushing/receiving to challenge Maclin’s freshman record. But coach Al Golden said he has not considered using him on punt returns: “He could do it [but] Phillip does a good job.”
UM coaches also see value in Johnson being a decoy at times. Running backs coach Terry Richardson has stressed the importance of “playing well without the ball in my hands to open lanes for other people.”
With his mother convincing Johnson not to read his press clippings, UM doesn’t worry about him staying grounded. “We’d like to have 105 Momma Dukes,” Golden said. “She will not let him get off course.”
### UM’s vertical passing game has been a major disappointment; Stephen Morris has completed only two passes that traveled in the air more than 20 yards and the deep passing game “needs to translate to games,” Golden said Tuesday. Morris, incidentally, has completed 34 of 42 passes inside UM’s 40 but 6 of 19 inside the opponent’s 20. UM receivers have dropped 11 passes in three games.
### Few athletes in South Florida have overcome more than Dolphins practice squad pickup Brian Tyms, an intriguing developmental prospect with size (6-3) and speed (4.4 in the 40). Tyms, who attended Fort Lauderdale Dillard, said he has lived in six foster homes; was beaten by his alcoholic father; had a drug-abusing mother who died from the HIV virus; and lived in his car in Broward for several weeks before walking on at Florida A&M.
### As well as the Dolphins’ linebackers have played against the run, this is disturbing: Karlos Dansby, Koa Misi and Kevin Burnett have allowed 24 of 34 passes thrown against them to be completed against them for 335 yards, according to Pro Football Focus. Dansby has yielded 159, most by far among NFL linebackers.
### Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen unleashed another rant Tuesday, saying he is fed up with a couple of his players complaining that Marlins Park is too big.
“We are not going to move the fence. That’s it,” he said. “If you want to be the hitting coach here and the fence is too far, go home. If you don’t want to play here because the fence is too far, go home.
“I guarantee you – if you give them $100 million, they will play here. If you don’t have a job, they will play here. That’s a bunch of [bleep]. We don’t have home run hitters and the one [Mike Stanton] we have has 34. I don’t see any [other] guy hitting 40 home runs – maybe Carlos Lee 30 years ago.
“We’re not in last place because this ballpark’s big. We’re in last place because we’re bad – from the top to bottom, myself included.” OK then. By the way, the Marlins have hit 30 more homers on the road than at home.
Guillen, incidentally, said he will resume living in Chicago this winter, where he has a home.
### The Heat, this week, continues to audition former Oregon guard Chamberlain Oguchi, a 6-6 swingman from the Nigerian national team who scored 35 points in a loss to Spain at last month’s Olympics.
Miami has 18 players under contract and former Memphis forward Robert Dozier drafted 60th by the Heat in 2009, likely will be the 19th. Teams can take 20 to camp but keep 15 once the regular season starts. Juwan Howard also continues to work out with the Heat, though it's difficult to envision a playing role for him.