Duke Johnson's freshman campaign was one of the more magic happenings of 2012. Not just for Al Golden's Hurricanes, but for the entire watching nation as he electrified us with his skills. Now spring is wrapping up for Golden's team and Johnson is the stud looking to help Miami take that next step.
Luckily for Johnson, he has plenty of room for growth in what should see him build on an already electric year one. For him, that next level is fully stepping into the spotlight on the big stage. His freshman accolades speak for himself, and to build on that lofty praise, it is going to take a real push to get even better.
When you click over to Johnson's profile page at Hurricane Sports, you see a laundry list of big time achievements. All-American. All-Freshman team. Rookie of the Year in the ACC. All-ACC and a handful of other things worth celebrating in a big way.
In other words, the kid is a stud and 2013 is about letting the nation know that he's more than just a one-year wonder.
That starts with his body. Johnson carried the ball 139 times in 2012, good for second most on the team behind senior Mike James. This year, he enters as the primary ball carrier for the Canes and to boost his carries and maintain his output, he's going to have to make sure he stays durable.
He has to get bigger, and he is doing just that. Johnson is up from 183 pounds in 2012 to 194 pounds during spring ball, and that is a plus. More weight and more muscle means he'll have a better time absorbing hits, bouncing off contact, recovering from the grind of carrying the ball more often and be better suited for the next phase of his game that must grow: getting more comfortable between the tackles.
Anyone who thinks Duke Johnson is incapable of running between the tackles has not done their homework. The kid from Norland High School in Miami does a good job in the middle, falls forward more often than not and is not bashful about running behind his pads and getting what he can get.
Where Johnson must improve for year two is his comfort level with hitting the interior holes. As he shifts into more of the primary ball carrier role, being more ready to go inside, as well as he does outside, is going to be a must. Having to substitute Johnson in and out of the game in an effort to run inside or outside slows tempo and rhythm and tips off the defense.
We saw it early in CJ Spiller's career. He was the lightning to James Davis' thunder and teams worked to respond accordingly. Spiller had to adjust to being an every-down back, and as Johnson enters year two as the primary rushing weapon, he'll have to make that transition as well.
Where coming off the field is concerned, another element of Johnson's game that (like most young running backs) will continue to improve is his ability in the passing phase of the game. First up is pass protection. There is an adjustment period that all backs go through, and in year two, look for Johnson to be more capable of protecting his quarterback on third down.
Second (and more importantly) is his ability to catch the ball. His 27 catches were good for fifth on the team and second for running backs behind Mike James' 30 grabs. With James gone, not only will Johnson command more carries, but he'll be in on more passing snaps as a target through the air.
If you're a Canes fan, that is certainly something to get excited about as the offense finds a way to get him into space and let his quickness go to work.
Duke Johnson was already one of the stories of the ACC's 2012 season. In 2013, he has a chance to become one of the most talked about guys on the big stage. As Kegs 'N Eggs reported, Johnson is a 12-1 preseason Heisman guy, and that's a good number. Now it's all about improving his durability for more carries, picking up the tough yards between the tackles and becoming more of a factor in the passing game.
When Johnson makes those improvements, he'll go from the electrifying back and kick returner he is, to one of the elite backs in the nation.