« UM freshman class notes | Main | Safety Ray-Ray Armstrong dismissed »

Offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch: 'We're counting on Duke [Johnson] to make an immediate impact'

Can you smell that? Yes, football season is on the horizon.

Your Miami Hurricanes open training camp Friday, Aug. 3. That's less than three weeks away. So, what better way to get you ready for shells and shorts than to finally run some of the stuff we gathered back in May for this very moment. (NOTE: Players and coaches needed a break from the end of spring ball until now and those interviews in May were the only window reporters were given to speak with them).

So, without further ado, our first real blog of the 2012 season...


With Hurricanes senior running back Mike James being named a nominee for the 2012 Allstate American Football Coaches Association Good Works Team on Tuesday, what better way to start looking ahead to the season than beginning with the backfield.

Duke JohnsonWhile James (5-11, 222) and junior Eduardo Clements (5-9, 195) will begin as the front-runners to take the majority of the carries left behind by Lamar Miller (the first 1,000-yard back at UM since Willis McGahee in 2002), all eyes this fall will be on incoming freshman Duke Johnson.

The 5-9, 183-pound Under-Armour All-American from Miami Norland and lead ambassador for the 2012 signing class appears to have all the blazing speed and giddy-up the two veterans in Miami's backfield simply haven't shown in college. And while UM coaches are trying to temper expectations for Johnson, offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch and running backs coach Terry Richardson both say Duke has to touch the ball as a freshman.

"We're counting on Duke to make an impact immediately," Fisch said back in May. "He is a playmaker. There is no doubt about it. You can't do what he did in high school and not think that most of it or some of it can't correlate to college football. It's not going to look like that every game when you play Florida State and Virginia Tech and Kansas State and Boston College and what not. I don't expect him to have 376 yards a game.

"But I do expect him to be someone that is a playmaker. We do have to game plan and scheme for him to get some touches and we have to figure out how, whatever he's able to handle. But he's not coming in here in a capacity where he's being given a job. He has to earn it. We don't give jobs based on high school production."

The big question will be how often Johnson touches the football and in what ways Fisch will get it in his hands. Could UM split Johnson out wide or put him in the slot as a receiver?

"Yes," Fisch said. "We have to look at that. Our offense is built on matchups. When we're really good it's linebackers covering our fast guys. If we can do that with a Duke, we're going to do it with a Duke."

Physically, Johnson hardly had any struggles in high school despite his smaller than average frame (he was about 5-8, 175 pounds as a senior). He ran for 5,069 yards and 52 touchdowns in his high school career and was named Florida's Mr. Football as a senior. But in college he has to get bigger. He's currently listed a 5-9, 183-pounds on UM's roster. Richardson said he would like Johnson to play between 185 and 190 pounds.

"If anything that would be the question -- how much of a pounding can he actually take from a mental standpoint and physical standpoint," Richardson said. "If I were to guess, I would say he could because football down here in South Florida is very good. He's tougher than his size. He's a real tough kid. He knows how to take care of himself on the football field, doesn't take a lot of big hits, has great balance. I think he could take care of himself."

The mental challenges of course is picking up UM's offense as well as pass protection responsibilities. "I'm definitely sure he wasn't asked to pass protect much at Norland," Richardson said. "But he's a bright kid."

"What did Dennis Green say [about the Bears]? We were who they thought they were? Duke was who we thought he was [when we scouted him]. He made plays so many different ways.

"He has a good stiff arm. The thing about it is he has good balance so it keeps people away from his body. He does a good job with that. He has wide shoulders and real long arms."

> Aside from Johnson, UM also signed 6-1, 210-pound running back Danny Dillard out of Venice, Fla. to add depth to its backfield. Richardson hopes Dillard can follow in James' footsteps and play a dual role in Miami's backfield -- as a ball carrier and occasionally a player who can lineup at fullback.

"I just like his size, his footwork, his vision. He's very well polished for a guy his size," Richardson said. "I got a chance to see him recently and he looks great. He's already between 220-225 pounds. I'm excited about him. I'm curious to see what he can do.

> As for the current fullback Maurice Hagens, who injured his grown this spring and missed the final two weeks of action, Richardson said he saw improvement from him last year as a sophomore.

"He was a true sophomore last year and did a good job," Richardson said. "He went against some pretty good linebackers in the ACC and held his own. He blew some of those guys up, had a good block on [ACC Defensive Player of the Year] Luke Kuechly. I have clips where Maurice got into him and pushed him into the other side of the ball... I'm just looking for better and bigger things."

> James, who has run for 719 yards (4.6 a carry) and 11 TDs in his career at UM, said his goal this spring was to become a more violent runner. He's also taken to reading books on how to improve his speed.

"The only way to get better at something is you have to really understand it," said James, who averaged just 3.6 yards a carry last season. "You get powerful, increase stride a little, footspeed. It's about increasing stride length, things like that."

James says he is also researching ways to improve his speed by watching highlights of Reggie Bush, DeSean Jackson and Jahvid Best.

"I just look at highlight tapes, stride frequency - how many times their feet hit the ground, how much ground they cover with a stride," James said. "I even looked at it with Lamar [Miller] - how many steps did he have to take to get five yards? You want to just match that, and that's how you get faster."