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Graig Cooper should be the boss in the backfield

Graig Cooper wants to be UM's next 1,000-yard rusher. 

That's the goal the guy wearing No. 2 has set for himself this coming season even though it hasn't happened at the University of Miami since 2002 when another guy who wore No. 2, Willis McGahee, finished fourth in the Heisman voting with 1,753 yards (the most ever in a Canes single season).

Graig Cooper has more than 1,500 yards rushing combined as a sophomore and freshman. But will he be allowed to be the primary back for UM in 2009? Back then, when Miami's offense was humming like a choo-choo train, 1,000-yard backs were the norm. From 1995-02, Danyell Ferguson (1,069 in '95), Edgerrin James (1,098 in '97 and 1,416 in '98), James Jackson (1,006 in '00) and Clinton Portis (1,200 in '01) all hit the four digit mark.

So it crazy to think this team -- in the midst of a 19-19 funk over the past three seasons -- can get back to that in Mark Whipple's new offense this fall? Not at all if you ask coach Randy Shannon. He said he wants to go with one primary running back this season. He believes the team has the depth and experience now where if the primary guy goes down, there won't be a major drop off.

But can Cooper (6-0, 205) take the pounding? Can he carry the the load? Will he really be given that load?

Last year, when James missed four games with a high ankle sprain, Cooper proved he could. Against Texas A&M, North Carolina, FSU and UCF, he ran 64 times for 359 yards and three touchdowns (that includes a six carry, 31-yard effort versus FSU when UM threw nearly every down in the second half). Not a bad stretch.

Unfortunately for Cooper, it didn't last. He carried the ball just 19 times combined his next two games against Duke and Wake Forest. Miami pulled off two wins despite it. But the next two games, Cooper got the ball 39 times against Virginia and Virginia Tech and UM picked up arguably its two biggest wins of the season.

Such was the theme for UM all season. When Cooper was handed the ball at least 15 times a game, UM was usually successful and at its best. The Canes went 4-2 in games Cooper had 15 carries (the losses were to UF and North Carolina). 

But when Cooper got the ball a combined just 30 times in UM's last three games, the Canes went 0-3. Before he produced a measly 155 yards in those three games, Cooper might have had a real shot at the 1,000 yard mark had Miami continued to give him the rock. Instead, he shared it with James (who had 29 carries during the stretch) and finished fifth in the ACC in rushing with 841 yards on 171 carries and four touchdowns. Only Boston College freshman Montel Harris (900 yards on 179 carries) produced more rushing yards with fewer touches than Cooper.

Cooper wants to be the man in Miami's backfield this coming season. He just doesn't want to sound greedy. He made every attempt Wednesday to avoid sounding like Keyshawn Johnson.

"We're not worried about trying to be the main guy. We're worried about trying to win, become a team," Cooper said Wednesday. "We let the young guys say some things, correct us. Our pride's not so big that we have to say everything and we have to be the boss. We listen to them too."

But maybe Cooper ought to try being the boss of the backfield. Because when he does touch the ball, good things usually happen. Statistically, nobody at UM has produced more offense than he has the last two seasons. As a freshman and sophomore, he's run for 1,523 yards on 296 career carries. His 29 catches were second on the team last season.

Willis McGahee set UM's single season rushing record in 2002 with 1,753 yards. No running back has run for 1,000 since. When this football program was thriving earlier this decade, one back usually headlined the show. Portis, McGahee and Frank Gore were all talented enough to be the man in Miami's offense. But only one was usually handed the keys. It didn't sever friendships or make things uncomfortable. The trio stayed friends off the field just fine. But they couldn't stand each other on it. Each of them wanted to be the man. It drove them to becoming better football players. Each is now thriving in the NFL.

When I asked Cooper about the NFL Wednesday he told me he wasn't even thinking about it. "I'm not worried about the draft. I got two years left. I'm just worried about getting this program back to where it used to be,"he said.

Team chemistry is important. I'm not knocking it. But part of what made The U special when it was special was how guys saw college as a stepping stone to achieving their NFL dreams. Cooper should embody that. He's been the best offensive player on this team the past two seasons.

Whether you agree with me or not, he's clearly been head and shoulders better than Baby J since arriving. Yet James, who has run for 100 yards in a game just once since he finished with 802 yards (second-most ever for a true freshman), has continued to take opportunities from Cooper. Since 2007, James has 227 carries and 868 yards (3.8 avg). That's only 69 less carries yet an eye-opening 655 fewer yards.

James may have the NFL pedigree, but even scouts believe Cooper will be the better pro, projecting him as a fourth round pick in 2011 and James -- hampered by injuries the past two seasons -- as a fifth or sixth rounder in 2010.

So is Shannon serious when he says there will be one primary back this season? There's only one real way to tell. If Cooper has four numbers and a comma next to his season total in December instead of three.

Comments

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Good read. Cooper should be the man. I would hate to bet against James, though. I don't care who wins the job, just get WINS!

On one hand your stats seem to favor Cooper, but remember, he fades out late into the season. I hope someone WINS the job next month and isn't just given it.

Perfect article Manny

I never really sat back and broke it down and thought about it like that

If Coop is a legit 6` 205 he should be able to carry the bulk of the load and when used properly could put up some eye popping #s

The health of Chambers, Berry and Baby J in packages will help as well in 2back sets

And we can`t forget about the incoming freshmen either

great piece Manny, thanks again for all the work you do. I agree that cooper needs to get a chance to be 'the man' because he has been the most productive. If he can withstand the wear and tear of the season enough to stay fresh at the end he should get 1000 yards. I am really impressed with the freshman James. I look for him to steal a few carries throughout the season too.

its a canes thang... no one understands but Us

Coop should be the man, he beat out Mc Coy in Prep school, he has the talent to be the man here.Let's hope he becomes what we think he could be.

Javarris James has regressed since his freshman year. I thought he was good then, not great. Now he is just OK.
Graig Cooper is indeed the man. He has much better quickness and speed than Baby J.

Fourth round pick!!!! I think Cooper will be a Heisman candidate this year. IMO Cooper is going to have a monster season. He looked bigger and faster in the spring game and don't forget all of the times he has been a hair away from breaking a run. I'm looking forward to him having a monster season...I think he should end up no.1 in Manny's countdown.

Coop is not only our best player, he's the best player in the ACC. I don't think he'll win the Heisman because we won't back him enough, but he'll be in the conversation.

Baby J seems like a nice kid, but I think he's a overhyped. He's more similar to past-his-prime Edge than anything else. Baby J is a shifty back who can get you 3 tough yards or catch a pass out of the backfield and get you a first down. Mike James is probably going to get more carries this year. We dont' even know what Chambers and Lamar Miller are going to bring, but I'm more excited about them than I am about Baby J.

I'm drunk as hell, but I hope our beloved Hurricanes look like they know what they're doing this season. Man, I really want some Thai food.

Cooper will be better this year. He has improved every season.

A healthy Baby J starting with the combination of Cooper is what will make this offense most explosive. Even having both backs in at the same time. We need both of their experience, as well as the change of pace factor that they're different styles of running brings.

Cooper goes down too easily. Where's the speed? Can't say I've seen it. I'd take James over Cooper any day (minus the injuries).

How could Coop beat out McCoy? McCoy was a star in college and will likely get good carries after Westbook goes down with his annual injury. Hmm, one will be getting major carries in the pros and the other is two years away from getting drafted? You have a UM education, figure that one out. More kool-aid brothers.

Coop just needs to break those arm tackles.

LeSean McCoy played at Pittsburgh in the Big East, which means he didn't play against any good defenses. McCoy in the ACC might not have been so great; even with that advantage, he wasn't a first round pick.

That being said, Coop isn't so spectacular either. Don't get me wrong, I like Coop a lot and agree that he should be given a bigger role in our backfield this year. He's the best we got right now. But he can't move that well when he's behind the pile and he can't break that many tackles. He's good in an open field, which is why he did so well against Texas A&M since they couldn't handle Nix's bubble screens. He can also return punts for the same reason. But he's not the type of back you can hand the ball to every down, at least not in the ACC (maybe in the Pac-10 or Big East).

There will be situations where we'll need to break through the pile (e.g. goal-line situations) and Coop won't be the best back for the job. In these situations, I say throw in Chambers or Mike James, not Coop or Baby J. Baby J supposedly is losing weight and I believe he's been told he's not the bruiser of a back he's strived to be in the past. So what I think our backfield will look like this season is Coop and Baby J as your mobile backs and Chambers and Mike James as your bruisers.

I prefer James over Cooper. It just seems when James is healthy he gives you those strong between the tackel runs. With James he gives you a lot of 2 and 5's or 6's. I would like to see James be the pounder wtih 15-18 carries and Cooper the slasher with 10-12 carries and a few catches out the backfield.

A Heisman candidate? Sounds a little delusional to me. Sorry to say it, but I think Coop is going to have a pretty disappointing season overall, yet again.

I think Cooper is going to have a great season. The guy is a great back.

I think that Coop should be the man! I was all in for Baby J until then he went down! I hate to say it but #2 is the best back! Then Baby J then Damien Berry then Mike and last Lee Chambers. Well Chambers before the Freshman actually. Or one of the Freshman should redshirt. James when healthy should be a good back. He is shifty and he can get you the tough yard and he catches the balls well. It has been some years since Willis..Frank and Clinton. But now you look at the RB's we have a stable! We can compete with the guys!! But #2 should be the #1 back!!

I like James more than Cooper but J. James hasn't been healthy his entire career.

needs new blood in the backfield coop is ok, buti didn't like his or baby j effort last season.maybe the team needs to commit more to the run.RUN OVER SOME PEOPLE INSTEAD OF AROUND!!!!!!!!

Coop can make big plays - this year we will see a new offense with real threats at WR, the only question is the O-line and TE, if the O-line is any good, then Coop will get his 1,000 yards. The OL is going to be the key - I have to see what happens with the big uglies before starting to believe in this team. The coaches have run out of excuses now, and it's time to put up or shut up. We are getting close though.

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