Al Golden took over the Miami Hurricanes just six weeks before National Signing Day. In that time he and his staff have hit the recruiting trail hard.
They've managed to sign 16 players to national letters of intent, and in the process, flipped eight commitments from other schools. Under Golden, the Canes' 2011 recruiting class ranking remarkably climbed 52 spots, from 85 to 33.
This is the second part in an ongoing series highlighting the state of the Hurricanes and how their new signees have affected each position.
Today's lesson: Running Backs.
Based solely on the fact that Lamar Miller is returning in 2011, the Miami Hurricanes are more than set at the running back position.
With Storm Johnson, Mike James, Lee Chambers, Eduardo Clements and incoming freshman Kevin Grooms all on the roster, the Canes have more than enough depth at the position.
This is a talented, young group too; perhaps the most talented group of Miami running backs since the incredible 2001 class that included Willis McGahee, Clinton Portis, Frank Gore and Najeh Davenport.
Miller is the clear-cut favorite to be the starter heading into spring practices. The 5-foot-11, 210-pound rising redshirt sophomore is a dynamic runner. He has elite, blue-cup speed (4.32 40-yard dash), good size and an incredible feel for the game with his hesitation and ability to change direction on a dime.
In 2010, Miller picked up 646 rushing yards on 108 carries (6.0 YPC) and led the team with six rushing touchdowns. He added 11 catches for 96 yards and had an electrifying kickoff return for a touchdown against Ohio State.
Miller doesn't need space to run. With his cut-back ability, he is more than capable of creating his own hole. He is an elusive runner with breakaway speed. He will be asked to carry a large chunk of the Miami offense in 2010, and with a big, young offensive line in place, it could be a breakout season in Coral Gables for the former Killian High School star.
Junior Mike James could be the thunder to Miller's lightning.
James is only listed at 5-foot-11, 217 pounds, but he is a versatile, bruising player. He has transitioned back-and-forth from fullback to running back during his career and has played at least a few snaps at either position during every game.
He ran the ball 70 times for 390 yards (5.7 YPC) in 2010. He is an ultra-effective short yardage back who loves absorbing contact while attempting to run over linebackers and defensive backs. James will likely never be a star at either of his positions, but he is big enough and talented enough to excel and provide value at both.
James will almost certainly be the Hurricanes' goal line back in 2010 and will get a lot of time at fullback as well. He is the Najeh Davenport in this current crop of running backs. The value in his versatility lies way beyond the statistics that he's able to produce.
That being said, his touchdown numbers should see a sharp increase with the loss of Damian Berry to the NFL. James will compete with senior John Calhoun and sophomore Maurice Hagens for the majority of time at fullback.
Wherever Mike James plays, however, Storm Johnson should see the field more in 2011.
Johnson is a true sophomore who made some noise late in his freshman campaign. The Hurricanes' scout team offensive player of the year stands 6-foot, 218 pounds and was ranked as the No. 7 running back recruit coming out of Loganville (Georgia) High School.
While there, Storm ran for a school record 1,937 yards and 31 touchdowns as a senior.
Like Miller, Johnson is a well-rounded back, but he doesn't possess Miller's super elite speed. If Miller is Clinton Portis and Mike James is Davenport, Johnson is much more in the McGahee mold (college form, pre-knee surgery).
Storm came on more toward the end of the season for the Canes and carried the ball nine times for 119 yards. His big highlight was a 71-yard touchdown scamper against South Florida. The video highlights Johnson's East-West running abilities.
He has tremendous vision and a great ability to change direction. Though big and deceptively fast, Johnson prefers slicing horizontally by defenders rather than utilizing his straight line speed and size.
Storm Johnson serves as a sufficient complement to the other two tailbacks and should compete with James for the secondary bulk of carries. Based on his name alone, it's easy to see Storm Johnson having success as a Hurricane.
Should any of the three primary backs get hurt, senior Lee Chambers has shown he is capable of stepping into a contributing role.
The Coffeeville, Miss. native has breakaway speed off the edge. He plays smaller than listed (5-foot-11, 195 pounds), but he can excel if put in the correct position to make plays.
With great speed, one would expect Chambers to see more time returning kicks on special teams. With the arrival of freshman Kevin Grooms, that now appears very unlikely.
At South Broward High School, Grooms ran for 1,350 yards and 27 touchdowns as a senior. Between his junior and senior seasons, he returned 13 punts for touchdowns.
Grooms is among the most explosive high school players in the country. He's stated to have unparalleled speed and quickness. His elusiveness is undeniable, and he looks like a young Devin Hester in the return game. The kid has moves and an uncanny ability to make people miss.
With their incredible depth at running back in place for at least the next few seasons, Golden's initial play may be to move Grooms to cornerback; a real position of need for Miami.
Wherever he plays, Kevin Grooms is still likely to handle a large share of the return game in 2011. In time, he may eventually get a chance to see what he can do trying to dance behind a college offensive line.
Golden relied on his running game to generate wins at Temple. With a giant question mark at quarterback, the 2011 Hurricanes will need to do the same in order to have success.
The Canes have the talent in place to succeed. People around the program think Lamar Miller will leave here as one of Miami's all-time greats.
If their running game can lead the way, Miami might pull a spin move on the entire ACC in 2011. Behind Lamar Miller, Storm Johnson and Mike James, the Canes could roll into Tallahassee on Nov. 12 still in contention for the ACC Coastal crown.
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