By Steve Gorten, Special to the Post
CORAL GABLES – How will Gus Edwards’ return impact the Hurricanes’ rushing attack?
Joe Yearby smacked his fist into his palm, and then again.
“Pound, pound,” Yearby repeated.
Noted quarterback Brad Kaaya: “Joe and Mark [Walton] are physically dominating backs, but Gus takes it to a whole ‘nother level.”
While Yearby and Walton had some success individually last season, the Hurricanes’ running game as a whole ranked 117th of 128 FBS teams in yards per game (119.92), 112th in yards per carry (3.68) and 75th in rushing touchdowns.
The absence of 6-foot-1, 230-pound Gus “The Bus” because of a broken foot sustained in camp also hurt UM’s offense on third downs and in the red zone, where they ranked 107th and 84th, respectively.
Edwards was back on the field Thursday as the ‘Canes started fall practice under new coach Mark Richt, whose offense features “more inside runs,” Edwards noted.
“We use the fullback more, too,” said Edwards, who carried 61 times for 349 yards and six touchdowns in 2014. “The fullback is not only blocking, but he’s getting out on passes. And the running backs, we’re a very big part of the passing game.”
Edwards said he loves running inside, but noted that he wants to also utilize his surprising 4.51 speed outside.
“I want to do both because I feel like the offense needs both,” he said. “Coaches want a running back that can do both.
“I don’t think they’re limiting me to just short yardage,” Edwards added. “They want me to be part of the passing game, block, run inside, run outside.”
Edwards, a redshirt junior, mostly took reps with the second-team offense Thursday while Yearby (205 carries, team-high 1,002 yards, six touchdowns) and Walton (130 carries, 461 yards) split time evenly with the first unit. Richt utilized multiple backs at Georgia, most recently Todd Gurley, Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, and said this summer that carries among ‘Canes backs, “will definitely be by committee…it’ll be two and three most of the time.”
Kaaya said Edwards can be an asset on first and second downs in addition to short-yardage situations.
“As productive as he is [will determine] how much he’ll play and how much he’ll get the ball,” Richt said, noting, “Gus right now has to prove he’s in good enough condition to play more than a play or two here and there.”
Edwards was still affected by his foot injury during spring practice and is “in much better condition now,” Richt said. Yearby agreed.
“He looks very different, more in shape,” Yearby said. “I feel he’s much better.”
Edwards said he has lowered his body fat from 11 to nine percent. Yearby also is at nine after dropping from 16 percent this offseason.
“It makes a big difference,” Yearby said. “I don’t get tired no more like I used to. In order to run the offense, we’ve got to be able to move faster.”
Focus has been on finishing strong, Edwards said, and all three backs, along with Trayone Gray and freshman Travis Homer support each other.
“Nobody’s selfish. Everybody’s humble in our backfield,” Edwards said. “And even though it was the first day, we were still pushing each other.”
The addition of transfer Marquez Williams, a 6-foot-1, 280-pound tank slated to start at fullback, should help the ‘Canes’ running attack get the tough yards it failed to get last season. So should the return of Edwards.
“It’ll be a good changeup, especially in short-yardage,” Kaaya said. “Downs like that can really change a game.”