The Miami Hurricanes have long anticipated star running back Duke Johnson's return to game action, and that day is less than two months away.
Christy Cabrera Chirinos of the South Florida Sun Sentinel notes the junior, who's listed at 206 pounds on the school's website, said he gained 15 more pounds of muscle this offseason to prepare for the physical toll of being a featured back.
With that in mind, let's set over-under lines for his 2014 campaign—not including a potential bowl game. Before we get too far, though, the following table provides a general idea of what numbers Johnson compiled during his freshman and sophomore years at "The U."
Ready? Good. To the projections.
Rushing Yards: 1,488
Johnson's rushing total of 1,488 yards was engineered this way: a modest 20 attempts per game at 6.2 yards per carry for 12 games—or 124 yards per outing.
He boasts a collegiate average of 6.6 yards throughout 284 career carries. Last season, Johnson essentially played seven nights after missing three quarters against North Carolina and one at Florida State and reached 6.3 yards on 20.1 attempts.
Over the last two years, he registered 50-plus-yard runs against Boston College, Virginia Tech, Virginia, Duke, Florida Atlantic and UNC. It sounds—and is—fantastically cliche, but he really becomes a home-run threat each time he handles the football.
Long story short, the big plays add up. He averaged 115 yards in the eight official appearances as a sophomore, even tallying a hard-earned 97 against an elite FSU defense.
A lofty number like that is extremely reliant on the Miami offensive line, but the triumvirate of Ereck Flowers, Jon Feliciano and Shane McDermott forms a powerful left side.
Receiving Yards: 187
Questioning whether Johnson manages to reach a target of 17-22 catches is not ridiculous, but the drop from 27 in 2012 to four last year is equally as baffling. For example, he could reach 187 yards by:
- 17 receptions, 11.0 YPC
- 22 receptions, 8.5 YPC
Offensive coordinator James Coley allowed Stephen Morris to live and die by the deep ball in 2013, but his second season at Miami should be markedly more contained.
And that's where Johnson comes in. It's fair to anticipate a few more screen passes and checkdowns this season because of the delicate quarterback situation. A key to minimizing mistakes under center is quickly distributing the ball to the team's playmakers in various ways.
Granted, he has just 298 career receiving yards—not exactly a staggering number from the backfield. But Coley must utilize his superstar in this fashion, lest the 'Canes ignore adding a dangerous dimension to their offense.
Total Touchdowns: 10.5
You want a compelling argument for Johnson eclipsing that mark? You want legitimate reasons the superstar cannot? You can have them both, of course!
As mentioned earlier, the junior is electrifying whenever his number is called, talented enough to slash through holes and outrun defenders to the end zone.
Even while he was a backup to Mike James, Johnson still bolted his way to 10 rushing touchdowns. Add one score through the air, one on a screen pass with two kick returns, and he scored in nearly every non-defensive way possible.
How many total touchdowns will Duke Johnson score in 2014?
On the other hand...
Dallas Crawford came in as a short-yardage bruiser last season, and that job figures to fall on Gus Edwards' broad shoulders this year. Plus, freshman Joe Yearby will steal a couple touchdowns from his fellow back. Remember, goal-line vulture Crawford tallied seven scores during 2013 games in which Johnson was actively involved.
What's more, it is unlikely Johnson returns many kicks anymore, mostly due to the young, non-starting speedsters on the sideline. Additionally, why subject him to an unnecessary beating on a kick return? He'll take a handoff on the next play anyway.
The main factor is determining whether Johnson will set up touchdowns for teammates or score them on his own.
So, what say you? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter: @Kenyon19_BR.