Key for Miami: Keeping Johnson healthy

April, 8, 2014
Apr 8
2:00
PM ET
Now that Miami quarterback Ryan Williams is out indefinitely, it is more important than ever to make sure running back Duke Johnson stays healthy for an entire season.

While Johnson has always been the key to Miami successfully running its offense, losing the only quarterback with starting experience will shift even more of the onus onto him.

[+] EnlargeJohnson
Robert Mayer/USA TODAY SportsDuke Johnson has added significant muscle and weight in the offseason in the hope of being a more durable back.
When Johnson was the starter last season, Miami jumped out to a 7-0 start and averaged 5.6 yards per carry. After he broke his ankle against Florida State, Miami averaged just 3.6 yards per carry in the final five games without him, going 2-3. Johnson accounted for every 25-yard run made by a running back before the Florida State game. After that contest, only one back had a run that went 25 yards or longer.

So the pressure is on to stay healthy. Of all the things we have seen Johnson accomplish, that part remains unproven.

His freshman season, Johnson played through a foot injury and was not durable enough to be an every-down back. Before he broke his ankle last season, Johnson was limited in several games after taking big hits to the head. Johnson, who suffers from migraines, said that was the reason he was pulled early against Savannah State, USF and North Carolina.

The ankle, though, was the first significant injury he had to endure. And Johnson never wants to go through that again. So this offseason, he worked harder than ever on becoming more durable. He has transformed his body and is stronger and more powerful than at any time in his career. Johnson is up to 205 pounds and has posted a career-high 19 reps bench pressing 225 pounds.

He passes the eye test. Now comes perhaps the biggest challenge -- playing without a veteran next to him. In his first two seasons, Miami always had a quarterback behind center with game experience. Stephen Morris’ presence helped keep defenses honest. But when Johnson went down, not even Morris could save the Miami offense.

Now with redshirt freshman Kevin Olsen projected to start, teams will be locked in on stuffing the box to stop Johnson.

We have seen Johnson fight through this before, breaking tackles and stiff-arming defenders with ease. No matter the defensive alignment, his presence in the backfield alone gives the Canes a shot to win every game they play. And they are going to need every bit of him as Miami faces quite a daunting start to the season. The Canes open at Louisville and play six of their first seven games against 2013 bowl teams before their first bye.

Miami cannot stomach the idea of losing him again.

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