Miami Hurricanes 2016 camp preview: Running backs

The Hurricanes are back on Greentree on Thursday. Let’s go position-by-position and tell you what we know, what we don’t know, and what we want to learn this month. 

Today, we look at Joe Yearby and others competing for carries.

2016 Canes Camp Previews:  QB | RB | WR | TE | OL | DL | LB | DB | ST

Ten important storylines for Hurricanes camp

For review: spring grades Offense | Defense 

Joe Yearby carries against Cincinnati in a 2015 game. (Getty Images)

Joe Yearby carries against Cincinnati in a 2015 game. (Getty Images)

Projected depth chart 

2 – Joe Yearby – Jr. — 5-9, 200
1 – Mark Walton – Soph. — 5-10, 205
7 – Gus Edwards – R-Jr. — 6-2, 230
32 – Trayone Gray – Jr. — 6-2, 220
24 – Travis Homer – Fr. — 5-11, 200

Numbers to know

Yearby led the Hurricanes with 205 carries and 1,002 yards. Walton (130 carries, 461 yards) scored a team-high nine times on the ground (once via the pass). Yearby had six rushing scores and two receiving touchdowns. The two combined for 45 catches for 566 yards, or, about 16 percent of UM’s passing offense.

Miami ranked 117th of 128 FBS teams in rushing yards per game (119.92), 112th in yards per carry (3.68) and 75th in rushing touchdowns (20). UM was pass-heavy, with only 20 teams handing the ball off more than Miami (424 carries).

Miami ranked 107th in long rushing plays, breaking 50 carries for 10 yards or more. Just 12 of those went for 20 or longer (eight were Yearby carries; he had two of 40-plus yards). Only 14 teams had a less explosive run game (among ACC teams, only Wake Forest).

A lack of dependable running game led to struggles on third down (107th in conversion rate, 35 percent) and in the red zone (84th in scoring, 81.7 percent). UM was good on fourth down, ranking 11th (72.2 percent).

Quote of note

“It’ll definitely be by committee. I don’t know if it’ll be four guys getting carries in a game, but it’ll be two and three most of the time.” – Coach Mark Richt

Breakdown

Tough sledding in 2015

Don’t pin UM’s run game struggles solely on Yearby and Walton. The former was a first-year starter and the latter was a true freshman, and both were operating behind a subpar offensive line. The website Pro Football Focus named Yearby – not Brad Kaaya – the best returning player on the Hurricanes, citing his elusiveness, ability to break tackles and “consistently effective” play. They’re correct in that assessment. Yearby was one of six ACC backs to rush for 1,000 yards last year. He is also a skilled blocker and has good hands out of the backfield. Walton’s hands might be better and he’s improved in all areas of his game entering his second season, according to coaches. Neither has game-breaking speed, but they’re a solid pair.

What’s Edwards’ role?

They’ll get a boost from Edwards’ return. Before a broken foot cost him last year, he showed some surprising straight-ahead speed (61-349-6 in 2014), and looked good as a second-teamer in the spring. At the very least, he should be an effective short-yardage guy; take note that Richt has done well using 215-pound backs (Nick Chubb, Todd Gurley, Sony Michel et. all).

Can Gray break out?

With Homer waiting in the wings and Miami after some high-level backs to play next year, it seems like now or never for Gray, the Carol City High product. He’s talented, but wasn’t able to earn the trust of UM’s last staff. He played receiver in high school, but a position switch seems unlikely at this point. Homer (No. 10 running back in the 2016 class) arrived on campus looking ready, but UM’s best course of action may be to sit him out and let him grow.

Who’s the fullback?

As noted before, Richt will use a fullback. He is impressed with Division 2 transfer Marquez Williams (“that’s what a fullback should look like,” he said of the 6-2, 280-pound redshirt sophomore) but that doesn’t mean Williams has the job locked up. Senior Gage Batten, who missed the spring with a foot injury but is expected to be ready for camp, was the starter last year (leading to senior Walter Tucker’s transfer). Swiss Army knife Chris Herndon (6-4, 255) played a little fullback in the spring (Richt praised his ability at that spot). UM track thrower Gian Piero Ragonesi (6-0, 270) has the right frame, but hasn’t played football; he’s a project. Another walk-on, sophomore Cesar Castillo (6-2, 245) from Florida Tech via Jupiter High, will try to make an impact.

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