Miami running backs take the lead

Since Miami joined the ACC in 2004, only once have the Canes had a running back finish among the top five in the conference in rushing yards per game:


No. 4 Frank Gore -- 945 yards, eight touchdowns


No. 13 Charlie Jones -- 507 yards, five touchdowns


No. 8 Javarris James -- 802 yards, four touchdowns


No. 8 Graig Cooper -- 682 yards, four touchdowns


No. 7 Graig Cooper -- 841 yards, four touchdowns


No. 8 Graig Cooper -- 695 yards, four touchdowns

Clearly Miami has been lacking a 1,000-yard rusher. Saturday's scrimmage, though, showed some promise. Even if Cooper hasn't recovered from his knee injury in time to join the team this fall, Miami has plenty of depth at the position, starting with Damien Berry. He averaged a team-high 6.6 yards per carry and eight touchdowns last year and finished as the second-leading rusher behind Cooper with 616 yards. Now that Mike James has moved back to tailback from fullback, he can also give the position a boost. The staff is also excited about Lamar Miller, who redshirted last year, and Storm Johnson, a four-star recruit rated No. 3 at his position by ESPN Recruiting.

The question is whether any of them can give Miami's running game a significant boost. Part of that, of course, depends upon how the carries are shared, how the offensive line performs and how much use is made of the deep receiving corps. It was the running backs, though, who stole the show on Saturday.

"The guys we're depending on at receiver had too many drops and the tight end position had too many drops," coach Randy Shannon said, according to the team's practice report. "Just as a total offense, we had too many dropped passes. Now, the best thing about it was the running backs really performed well.

"Damien Berry performed unbelievable today. Lamar Miller did some great things. Storm Johnson did some great things and Mike James. Each one of them had an opportunity to carry the football and make somebody miss in space, which was a positive thing. We went about 100 plays. Every play wasn't electrifying. They might get tackled for a 2-, 3-yard loss, but they came back and would have a 40-yard run or 20-yard run. They were patient."

Miami fans have also been patient -- through the trying seasons with former offensive coordinator Patrick Nix, and through the turnovers last year with quarterback Jacory Harris. You obviously can't forecast a season off of one scrimmage, but if Miami is going to take the next step this year, it needs both the running and passing game in sync. That will help take some pressure off of Harris and he won't have to consistently try to win the game with his arm.

Since joining the ACC, Miami's running game hasn't ranked better than 65th in the country (2007). Last season, the passing game made impressive strides under first-year coordinator Mark Whipple, moving from 77th in the country in 2008 to 31st last year. It's time for Miami's running game to make a similar move.