Miami Hurricanes football: Can freshman ‘freak’ Lorenzo Lingard be the next Duke Johnson?

In this low-quality image from Miami’s Tuesday practice, Lorenzo Lingard takes a handoff from Cade Weldon as offensive coordinator Thomas Brown (black shirt) and coach Mark Richt (Panama hat) watch.

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CORAL GABLES — Lorenzo Lingard will have a chance to beat out Travis Homer and DeeJay Dallas, who finished last season as Miami’s No. 1 and No. 2 tailbacks.

“Every spot is open,” offensive coordinator Thomas Brown said. “I don’t care what you did last year.”

Last year, Lingard was at Orange City-University High, rushing for 1,701 yards and 26 touchdowns on 207 carries and earning the Florida Gatorade high school player of the year award. He enrolled in January, and while it’s early to say he’ll have a Duke Johnson-like impact as a freshman, Miami coaches are encouraged.

“If you watch his high school highlight tape, he’s a pretty good football player,” Brown said. “He’s full of energy, goes full-speed all the time. I’ve got to get him to slow the game down and process it a little slower and control his body more, because he can be out of control at times. But I would much rather have a guy that goes too hard all the time than a guy I’ve got to kick in the butt and tell him to go harder.

“The faster he learns exactly what to do and how to do it, he can relax and let his talent come through even more.”

The standard for Miami freshman running backs is Johnson, who rushed for 947 yards and 10 touchdowns on 139 carries in 2012. He finished that season with 2,060 all-purpose yards and 13 touchdowns. Johnson, the program’s all-time leader in rushing (3,519) and all-purpose yards (5,526), was the most recent former five-star recruit in Miami’s backfield.

Until Lingard, who was rated as high as No. 10 overall by Rivals.

Quarterback Malik Rosier said Lingard “definitely stands out” among the running backs, even though he’s not yet sure what he’s doing.

“The big thing with him is he’s a rookie,” Rosier said.  “You can tell he’s fast and explosive, and once he figures out what he’s doing on every single play he’s going to be a freak.”

* Rosier also spotlighted two other freshmen: cornerback Gilbert Frierson, who displayed his closing speed and made a diving pass break-up in Tuesday’s drills, and safety Gurvan Hall. “They’re going to be really good,” he said, confidently.

* Defensive end Joe Jackson applied the freak” label to sophomore Jonathan Garvin. He would know. As a freshman in 2016, Jackson’s considerable physical talent earned him a label from an older teammate. Chad Thomas said he had a “Gladiator” body.

In Garvin, the trend continues.

“The guy’s just a freak of nature,” Jackson said in a phone interview last Thursday. “Speed. Strength. Power. He’s very consistent. He’s got the work ethic. He’s probably the fastest person I’ve seen develop in college football.

“I think he’s going to have a good season. He’s going to help us out a lot.”

Garvin (two sacks — both of the strip-sack variety — and three tackles for losses last year as a reserve) opened Tuesday as a first-team defensive end next to Jackson. Demetrius Jackson (not practicing as he recovers from November knee surgery) is likely to be the strong-side end, with Garvin and Joe Jackson splitting time on the weak side.