ACC: Nate Dortch

We move on in our series looking at the weakest and strongest positions on each team in the ACC with Miami:

Strongest position: Running back.

When you have Duke Johnson on your team, running back qualifies as the strongest position. Johnson earned headlines last season as one of the top freshmen in the country after he totaled 2,060 all-purpose yards and 13 touchdowns en route to ACC Rookie of the Year honors. He gained a Miami freshman-record 947 yards on the ground, with 10 touchdowns, and is looking for much more this season as the featured back in the offense. Already, he has garnered preseason All-America buzz. But if there is a concern here, it is over building some depth with Mike James gone. Dallas Crawford showed some flashes during the spring but needs to be more consistent. Eduardo Clements is the veteran of the group but needs to work on his consistency as well. Miami could rely on a true freshman here again for the second straight season.

Weakest position: Secondary.

Truth is, I could have chosen the defensive line, too. They are both weak spots headed into the season based on what happened in 2012 and some of what we saw in the spring. The front returns its starters, so that gives them a slight edge when it comes to projecting improvement. You have to figure a line with four returning starters, a healthy Curtis Porter and five upperclassmen on the two-deep will be better. Meanwhile, the secondary has to replace its best player in Brandon McGee. Three of the four spots in the secondary remain open headed into fall camp -- Ladarius Gunter and Tracy Howard are competing for one starting cornerback job; Antonio Crawford and Nate Dortch for the other. AJ Highsmith and Rayshawn Jenkins are up for one of the starting safety jobs. The only guy who appears to be safe? Sophomore safety Deon Bush. Where the line has experience, the secondary is still young -- only three on the two-deep are upperclassmen. You see why this spot remains an area of concern.

More in the series.
Miami Hurricanes

2012 record: 7-5

2012 conference record: 5-3, Coastal

Returning starters: Offense: 10; defense: 10; kicker/punter: 0

Top returners

QB Stephen Morris, RB Duke Johnson, DL Anthony Chickillo, LB Denzel Perryman

Key losses

RB Mike James, CB Brandon McGee, LB Gionni Paul, LB Eddie Johnson

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Johnson* (947 yards, 10 TDs)
Passing: Morris* (245-of-421 for 3,345 yards, 21 TDs, 7 INTs)
Receiving: Phillip Dorsett* (842 yards, 4 TDs)
Tackles: Shayon Green* (67)
Sacks: Chickillo* (4)
Interceptions: McGee, Jimmy Gaines* (two each)

Spring answers

1. New coordinator, no problems. From the looks of things, it appears as if Miami has settled in quite nicely with new offensive coordinator James Coley. Stephen Morris had a great spring game, throwing for 256 yards and four touchdowns, and Duke Johnson had 120 yards on 10 carries. Seems as if both players are already in midseason form.

2. Malcolm Lewis is back. The Hurricanes also had one of the best stories of the spring when Lewis caught a 75-yard touchdown pass in the spring game -- his first appearance since a gruesome ankle injury against Georgia Tech cut his season short. His teammates ran out onto the field to mob him and celebrate his return. He should be a factor in the pass game this fall.

3. Henderson matures. Miami has been waiting on offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson to mature. His career in Miami has been rocky at best. But Henderson showed signs of maturation in this spring, drawing praise from teammates and coach Al Golden. He is firmly entrenched as the starting right tackle.

Fall questions

1. Defense. Everybody believes this group should be better this year with 10 starters returning. But these 10 starters also played pretty poorly at times last year. So which is it going to be? There were definite signs of growth this spring, but they have plenty to prove when the season begins.

2. Linebacker depth. Miami lost three linebackers this spring for off-the-field reasons (Gabe Terry, Eddie Johnson, Gionni Paul). Paul and Johnson ranked third and fourth on the team in tackles last season, respectively. Neither participated in spring practice so the Hurricanes had a chance to develop younger players. But losing three linebackers is never good from a depth standpoint.

3. Open competitions remain. Three of the four starting jobs in the secondary remain up for grabs. Safety Deon Bush is the only one who has locked down a starting job. The others feature competition at one cornerback spot between Ladarius Gunter and Tracy Howard; the other cornerback spot between Antonio Crawford and Nate Dortch; and the other safety spot between AJ Highsmith and Rayshawn Jenkins.

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