ACC: Storm Johnson

Miami running back Lamar Miller rattled off his goals for this season without any hesitation:

  • Win every game.
  • Rush for more than 100 yards every game.
  • Win the ACC championship.
Lamar Miller
AP Photo/John BazemoreLamar Miller wants to be the Hurricanes' first 1000-yard rusher since 2002.
“That’s about it, really,” he said.

You’d think he was checking items off a grocery list instead of trying to become Miami’s first 1,000-yard rusher since Willis McGahee in 2002.

Whether he actually accomplishes that feat depends heavily upon how the carries will be shared with Mike James, who is also too talented to keep off the field, but Miller is the top playmaker in the group. He led Miami with six rushing touchdowns last season as a redshirt freshman and is poised for a breakout season. His 6.0 yards per carry average was the highest among rushers with at least 10 carries. He was also at his best against some of the best competition. Miller ran for 163 yards against Virginia Tech, a season-high for the team, and he ran for an average of 86.8 yards in ACC games -- third-best in the league.

“I don’t feel any pressure,” he said of reaching the 1,000-yard mark. “I’m just going to take it game by game, come out with a victory and help my team win games.”

With Miller and four starters returning on the offensive line, Miami’s offense has the potential to flourish in Year 1 under offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch (if, of course, they get some consistency at quarterback).

“Every day we’ve been competing, we’re bigger and stronger and in better conditioning,” Miller said. “Everyone has adjusted pretty well. [The coaching change] was a big move for some of the guys, but everybody overcame [it] and is working together to get better as a unit.”

If Miller’s performance in the spring game is any foreshadowing of what is to come, opposing ACC defenses should be concerned. Miller showcased his speed and explosiveness with touchdown runs of 70 and 64 yards. He finished the day with 10 carries for 166 yards. He is the fastest running back on the roster and the biggest home run threat.

Miller said that Storm Johnson's decision to transfer hasn’t affected the strength of the group nor has it affected the way he is mentally approaching this season. He is also well aware of the many Miami fans who are expecting big things from him this fall.

“The expectations are really high,” he said. “I just have to come out and do my assignment and just play my part.”

Miami fans are hoping to watch him do that 1,000 times over.
Last week we looked at how the quarterbacks stacked up in the ACC. This week, we’ll take a closer look at the running backs. Again, the position rankings by team put heavy weight on the depth of the position -– hence the team ranking, not individual. Just because Virginia Tech has one of the best running backs in the ACC doesn’t mean that collectively, as a group, Virginia Tech is the best team in the league at the position. Florida State? Loaded. Wake Forest? Not. These are based on the best combination of talent, experience and depth.

Here’s a look at how each team ranks in the position:

[+] EnlargeChris Thompson
Lee Coleman/Icon SMIChris Thompson averaged 6.4 yards per carry for the Seminoles last season.
1. Florida State: Chris Thompson, Ty Jones and Jermaine Thomas combined for 1,862 yards, 6.1 yards per carry, and 17 touchdowns last year. Thompson had 1,000 yards combined from both rushing and receiving last year, and Thomas enters his senior season with 1,084 career yards -- the second most of any active ACC runner, behind only Montel Harris (3,600).

2. Boston College: Montel Harris could break a 33-year-old ACC rushing record this fall, and his backup, Andre Williams, is a bigger back who has proven more than capable of shouldering the load himself. Together they’re one of the best one-two combos in the league.

3. Miami: The transfer of Storm Johnson hurt, but Lamar Miller should be one of the best in the ACC, and Mike James was ahead of Johnson on the depth chart. The Canes also have Darion Hall, Maurice Hagens and incoming freshman Kevin Grooms.

4. Clemson: Andre Ellington will be the leader of the pack, but true freshman Mike Bellamy could also make an immediate impact, and the group runs deep with Roderick McDowell, D.J. Howard and Demont Buice.

5. Virginia Tech: Had Ryan Williams and Darren Evans returned, this would have been one of the premier groups of running backs in the country. Instead, it will be the David Wilson show (and Josh Oglesby). Not that the Hokies will have any problem with that.

6. Maryland: Davin Meggett and D.J. Adams are a talented duo, but depth should be a concern. Meggett posted a team-high 720 rushing yards in 2010, while Adams had a freshman school-record 11 rushing touchdowns.

7. NC State: The Wolfpack are in a much better position at running back than they were a year ago, when nobody with starting experience returned. Mustafa Greene, James Washington and Brandon Barnes should make NC State’s running game a bigger factor this fall.

8. Georgia Tech: Coach Paul Johnson isn’t concerned about his B-back position because it’s one of the deepest on the team. There isn’t one superstar like in recent years, but Richard Watson, Charles Perkins and Preston Lyons will work together to keep the Jackets one of the top rushing teams in the country.

9. North Carolina: The Tar Heels have to replace three tailbacks who accounted for 96 percent of their rushing last year. Ryan Houston is back for his sixth season of eligibility, but he is the only one who has seen significant playing time. Giovani Bernard, Hunter Furr and Travis Riley help the depth.

10. Wake Forest: Josh Harris could crack the 1,000-yard mark if he stays healthy, and Brandon Pendergrass is a capable backup. There are three true freshmen at the position, and it’s one area coach Jim Grobe can’t afford any injuries.

11. Virginia: Perry Jones and Kevin Parks are talented, but the Cavaliers will miss the production of Keith Payne, who accounted for 14 of the team’s 17 rushing touchdowns. Jones started all but one game last year, but only scored one touchdown.

12. Duke: The Blue Devils’ running game is starting to show progress, but last year it still ranked 104th in the country. Depth isn’t a problem, as Desmond Scott, Josh Snead and Juwan Thompson should help make it a more productive group this year.

Stay tuned for the top 10 ACC running backs for 2011 ...

ACC's lunchtime links

June, 15, 2011
6/15/11
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Offseason gotchya down? Let David Wilson give you a lift ...

ACC lunchtime links

May, 19, 2011
5/19/11
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Your friendly neighborhood Big East blogger is filling in for Heather today. Maybe one day one of our leagues will see the BCS title game again.

ACC's lunchtime links

May, 9, 2011
5/09/11
12:00
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Shh. Hear that? It's sound of ACC football links after spring ball ...

ACC spring helmet stickers

May, 6, 2011
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For those of you who follow the blog year-round, you know that helmet stickers are a tradition in the fall, and only five of them are given out following every Saturday during the season. This spring, the conference also had some top performers deserving of some recognition.

Here are the ACC’s helmet sticker recipients for spring ball:

Miami’s running backs: The trio of Lamar Miller, Storm Johnson and Mike James made it difficult for first-year coach Al Golden to sort his depth chart, but Miller finished the spring on top after an outstanding performance in the spring game. All three bring different styles and should make Miami’s running game one of the best and most versatile in the conference.

North Carolina’s offensive line: This could be the Tar Heels’ best offensive line since Butch Davis came to Chapel Hill. The recruiting efforts have paid off, as the staff finally has a rotation it is comfortable with, and the starting lineup was solidified this spring with Travis Bond at right guard and Brennan Williams at right tackle.

Virginia Tech’s defensive line: With the move of Chris Drager back to tight end, the Hokies entered the spring having to replace three starters up front, but by the end of spring practices the front four showed they were capable of being even better than their predecessors. Antoine Hopkins and his brother, Derrick Hopkins, and defensive ends J.R. Collins and James Gayle each elevated their games and alleviated any concerns the staff might have had about the revamped line.

Clemson’s offensive line: The Tigers, under the direction of a new offensive line coach and new offensive coordinator, were and will continue to be the foundation and dependable group in a season of change. Four starters return, and this spring, their strength -- run blocking -- was featured as the Tigers ran more than they passed. Three different players in the spring game rushed for at least 100 yards each.

Duke quarterback Sean Renfree: Yes, there were a lot of standout performances from ACC quarterbacks this spring, but only one coach went so far as to say his had a “tremendous spring,” not a “good spring.” His sense of timing was better, he was aggressive without taking risks that didn’t make sense, and he’s athletic and healthy. I’m telling you now: Do not sleep on Renfree. He's only thrown two picks in his past 188 pass attempts. He’s got a talented group of receivers to throw to. And he’s only going to get better.

Miami spring wrap

May, 5, 2011
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MIAMI

2010 overall record: 7-6

2010 conference record: 5-3

Returning starters

Offense: 6, defense: 7, punter/kicker: 0

Top returners

WR Travis Benjamin, RG Brandon Washington, C Tyler Horn, QB Jacory Harris, QB Stephen Morris, DE Olivier Vernon, DT Micanor Regis, DT Marcus Forston, LB Sean Spence, S Vaughn Telemaque, S JoJo Nicolas, RB Lamar Miller, RB Mike James

Key losses

WR Leonard Hankerson, LT Orlando Franklin, RB Damien Berry, P/PK Matt Bosher, DT Allen Bailey, LB Colin McCarthy, CB Brandon Harris

2010 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Berry (899 yards)

Passing: Harris* (1,793 yds)

Receiving: Hankerson (1,156 yds)

Tackles: McCarthy (119)

Sacks: Bailey (7)

Interceptions: Ryan Hill, Vaughn Telemaque* and Ray-Ray Armstrong* (3)

Spring answers

1. Stacked at running back. Lamar Miller finished the spring atop a depth chart deep with talent at running back, including Mike James and Storm Johnson. All three have different styles, as James is the power/slasher, Johnson gets the tough yards and is elusive in the open field, and Miller is the fastest and the home run threat.

2. The Golden era has been embraced. First-year coach Al Golden made his debut this spring with a new staff and new schemes, and all of the players have bought in. The Canes now eat breakfast together every day, and the seniors were the first to latch on to Golden, as they know time is running out to win. They seem willing to follow whoever wants to lead, and the players also started to take ownership this spring.

3. Jordan Futch has helped the linebacker depth. He was a role player for most of his career and was going to move to tight end, but, as it turns out, he can play inside or outside linebacker, and he played well enough this spring to convince Golden he deserves a spot somewhere on the field. Colin McCarthy was the only starter who had to be replaced, and there was some shuffling of positions, but Futch or Gaines emerged as the leaders to take over that spot.

Fall questions

1. And the quarterback is? Golden said the quarterback competition will likely go into mid-August, as neither Jacory Harris nor Stephen Morris separated himself. It’s one of the main storylines in the ACC, and could be the difference in Miami’s season. Both struggled in the spring game, as they threw two interceptions each, but first-year offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch is evaluating them on more than just picks.

2. Who will take over the secondary? It’s so wide open that true freshman Thomas Finnie enrolled early and worked his way onto the two deep. It’s a young, inexperienced group with big shoes to fill after the departures of Brandon Harris and Ryan Hill. Lee Chambers, Nicolas, Telemaque and Armstrong will have to rise to the occasion or leave it to the rookies like Finnie. This spring, Golden said Nicolas and Armstrong were the leaders of the secondary.

3. Baffled without Bosher. Matt Bosher, an all-conference kicker and punter during his career, did it all, and the kicking game is a major question without him. Jake Wieclaw is next in line, but he only played against Florida A&M and has yet to attempt a collegiate kick. Incoming freshmen kickers Matt Loudis and Dalton Botts will challenge Wieclaw for the starting job.

Miami spring game storylines

April, 15, 2011
4/15/11
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Miami will play its spring game at noon on Saturday. Here are your three main storylines to watch:
  • Quarterback. This is the most obvious one, and if you watch anything BUT Jacory Harris and Stephen Morris, I'll be impressed. Both have had their moments this spring, but neither has separated enough to be named the starter for this fall. Both threw one interception in the last scrimmage. This is the key to Miami's season.
  • Running back. The Canes have a three-headed monster at running back, where Lamar Miller, Storm Johnson and Mike James are all too good to keep off the field. How will the carries be divided, and will Miami run more than it passes?
  • Depth at linebacker. Miami has capable athletes here, and Sean Spence is the leader of the pack, but some players moved from outside to middle, or middle to outside, and it will be interesting to see how the rotation works out.
Miami's running game was a strength on Saturday, and ACC fans should expect to see more of the same this fall as the Canes have one of the most talented and deepest groups of running backs in the ACC. Look for more short passes to the running backs this fall. About 3,000 fans were in attendance at Spanish River High School in Boca Raton, Fla., to watch the two-hour session under first-year coach Al Golden:

Offensive highlights:
  • Five backs -- Mike James, Lamar Miller, Storm Johnson, Maurice Hagens and John Calhoun -- combined for 226 yards on 41 carries (5.5 yard per rush). James led all players with 124 total yards of offense (89 on the ground and 35 through the air) while Johnson and Miller finished with 94 and 67 total yards respectively.
  • Jacory Harris completed 14 of 21 passes for 120 yards and one touchdown.
  • Stephen Morris completed 7 of 13 passes for 93 yards and one touchdown.
  • Travis Benjamin had four catches for 49 yards and two carries for 26 yards.
Defensive highlights:
  • Senior linebacker Jordan Futch led the defense with nine total tackles and two sacks.
  • Sean Spence had eight tackles, three tackles for loss and two sacks.
  • Junior defensive end Adewale Ojomo had the best day of any of the linemen with six tackles, four tackles for loss and two sacks.
  • In the secondary, Vaughn Telemaque led the way with seven tackles and a pass deflection.
  • Travis Williams had seven tackles, two for loss, and one sack.
Quotable: "We have talent there; we have to find ways to get them the ball," Golden said of his running backs. "We have [offensive coordinator] Jedd [Fisch], who is really coaching the heck out of them and using them, and having the quarterbacks see them and know that they're part of the progression because it's easy yards. Obviously it's our job as coaches to put our best players in position to make plays and I think they did that today. ... Michael James is a really good football player ... I'm excited about him."

Competition still the theme at Miami

March, 31, 2011
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Miami has released its third depth chart of the spring, and it should be a motivational tool for the players entering Saturday's scrimmage since there are four starting jobs on offense still up for grabs: quarterback, running back, left tackle and left guard.

One of the more significant changes from the last depth chart is at quarterback, where it's now Jacory Harris or Stephen Morris, as opposed to just Harris like it was the previous time. The running backs are listed as Mike James or Storm Johnson or Lamar Miller. Defensively, Brandon McGee has replaced true freshman Thomas Finnie as starting cornerback,

At defensive tackle, Micanor Regis has moved ahead of Curtis Porter, and defensive end Olivier Vernon is now listed as a starter instead of Adewale Ojomo.

Friday mailblog

February, 11, 2011
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Don't forget to get your ACC love letters in, guys. Until then, here's the regular weekly mailblog ...

Brian in New York, N.Y., writes: Since the rumor mill has a potential match-up between the Canes and FSU on Labor Day I wanted to ask you how big of an advantage, in your opinion, is it for Miami to play FSU and host OSU early in the season. While the faces and names on the field will be largely the same as 2010, the plays/schemes will be completely different and there will be little (and for FSU no) scouting tape available. Do you think this gives Miami a better shot at pulling off some early upsets?

HD: I understand what you're saying, and it could be a factor, should the schedule play out that way, but I think it would be better for Miami to play a few cupcakes first to get some of the kinks out. You almost always see mistakes and sloppy play in the first few games of the season -- even from programs that aren't going through a change in staff and philosophy.


Kendall in Sumter, S.C., writes: Like everyone else, I was shocked at how well Clemson was able to recruit this year. I hope all of the players turn out to be under-rated and Clemson has a banner few years ahead. But one thing still bugs me: Did Dabo not recruit a kicker? Clemson's kicking game contributed mightily to the losing season (the Auburn game is the first one that come to mind, followed closely by the game against FSU). Does Dabo know something that the rest of us don't or does he think someone already on the roster will finally step up? Just wondering if he's commented about it.

HD: He's done better than comment about it, Kendall. He recruited one. Ammon Lakip, from Alpharetta, Ga. He's rated No. 12 at his position by ESPN.com.


JT in Orlando, Fla., writes: Maryland's recruiting class seemed a little below average. I read that Edsall excels at taking average talent and getting the best out of it, similar to Gary Williams. What are your thoughts on this?Thanks,JT

HD: ESPN Recruiting gave it a C+, so it would seem to me it's slightly better than average. You're right, though, about Edsall's reputation as a recruiter. He won at UConn with mostly under-the-radar guys. He even went to Canada to get one. Edsall has blasted the star system before, and he's big on evaluating guys and developing them. They obviously did a good job, considering the Huskies made it to a BCS bowl last year, and developed four first- or second-round NFL draft picks two years ago. He never really got any of the big-name players in the state of Connecticut, especially in the Southern part, but he did get good players who didn't have egos. The Maryland/D.C./Virginia area is filled with talent, but with Virginia Tech, Virginia and Penn State all more than aware of it, Edsall will have his work cut out for him.


Robert in North Carolina writes: Hey, Heather... Looks like you missed Marshall Williams getting an invite to the NFL Combine. Last time I checked, Wake Forest was an ACC school. Come on.

HD: You're right. My bad.


Trevor in North Dakota writes: Hey Heather, what's the word on Storm Johnson? I was surprised they didnt redshirt him last year. He seemed to show flashes last year. Is he going to challenge Miller for the starting spot this year?

HD: Lamar Miller and Mike James have a proven track record and have to be considered the favorites for the starting spot. Miller is a very special player, and those within the program think he could be the next great Miami running back. James is consistent, a leader, smart and good in the passing game. Al Golden has said it's an open competition, though, and if Johnson proves to be the best back, he could earn the starting job. From a pure talent perspective, Miller and Johnson are the best on the roster.


Ben in Blacksburg, Va., writes: How long do you think it will be fore Torrian Gray is given a promotion at VT or finds a D-coordinator job at another school? He has been the defensive backs coach for a few years now and our secondary has been arguably the most consistent part of our team. He is also our best recruiter and has gotten off to a fast start in 2012. Who knows if Bud Foster will ever move from blacksburg, but Gray has got to be drawing some attention around the country.

HD: Great point, Ben, he's definitely made a name for himself there and should be considered an attractive candidate for the next step at another school. The secondary has become a strong tradition of the Hokies' defense, and he was responsible for the top two recruits already in the 2012 class. Hokies fans should hope he remains a secret.


Neil in Boston writes: Hi Heather,Since I'm routinely confused by who is/isn't required to sit out a year with this kind of transfer, can you educate on why Forcier (seemingly) won't be required to take a hiatus? Keep up the good work with the blog.

HD: Thanks, Neil, but Forcier will be required to sit out 2011. He'll have two years of eligibility remaining and can play in 2012.
Miami running back Lamar Miller, who injured his shoulder last week at Clemson, was wearing a non-contact jersey at practice today, according to multiple reports.

Miller is the Hurricanes' second-leading rusher with 157 yards on 29 carries. The good news for Miami's running backs is that Graig Cooper, the leading rusher in 2009, is expected to play against Florida State. If Miller is out, Mike James is the next man up.

And don't forget about freshman Storm Johnson, who lost his redshirt opportunity when he was used on special teams against Pittsburgh. There are certainly plenty of options behind Damien Berry.

No redshirt for Storm Johnson

September, 23, 2010
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PITTSBURGH -- Miami freshman running back Storm Johnson has played on kickoff coverage, so there goes his chance at a redshirt unless he is injured.

Many were wondering whether or not Johnson would redshirt, as he had a great summer camp but is stuck in a loaded backfield. Damien Berry is having a great game and Lamar Miller has played, but with Graig Cooper injured it will be interesting to see how much Johnson is used this year and if it's more than on special teams.

Miami fans: Don't count out 'Coop'

August, 24, 2010
8/24/10
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Miami fans on today's chat seem to have already written off running back Graig Cooper, who is making his way back from a torn ACL.

Don't do it.

OK, maybe I jumped the gun in the chat saying that Cooper will start, but I'd be really surprised if he didn't play this season. Lamar Miller and Storm Johnson have been getting all of the ink -- and deservedly so -- for their performances in scrimmages this summer, but Cooper is still the team's leading returning rusher, and Randy Shannon has said that if Cooper is healthy, he's going to play this season.

It's obviously going to take some time for Cooper to get into gear. He's got to heal and he has to be hit again, but he's definitely not somebody fans should be forgetting about this season.

Miami, Maryland scrimmage highlights

August, 24, 2010
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A few more scrimmage notes for you, as provided by each school's sports information department:

MARYLAND

Two defensive scores highlighted the Terps' final scrimmage on Monday. Dexter McDougle had a 21-yard interception return and Trenton Hughes had a 22-yard fumble return. It was a 125-play scrimmage that featured possessions at the offense's 5- and 25-yard line, midfield and defense's 20-yard line.

Offensively, Da'Rel Scott had 10 carries for a scrimmage-high 73 yards, including a 50-yard touchdown where he burst through the line. Quarterback Jamarr Robinson was 9-of-14 for 102 yards, a touchdown and an interception, while Danny O'Brien was 19-of-34 for 179 yards.

"I thought Danny O'Brien did some good things today," coach Ralph Friedgen said, according to the team's practice report. "Jamarr [Robinson] threw an interception [that was returned] for a touchdown. I thought Jamarr looked pretty sharp in the 7-on-7 before the scrimmage, and he did some good things in the scrimmage. I have to look [at the tape] and see how that all turned out. We just didn't put the ball in the end zone a lot. That's the thing."

MIAMI

Highlights
  • Lamar Miller scored on an 83-yard run up the middle early in the scrimmage.
  • Travis Benjamin caught a pair of touchdown passes from Jacory Harris and Alonzo Highsmith.
  • Kendal Thompkins broke out for gains of 32 and 26 yards.
  • Andrew Smith had two of the defense's four sacks, while Micanor Regis and Marcus Forston each had one.
  • Ray-Ray Armstrong forced a fumble.
Passing leaders

Jacory Harris: 4-for-12, 38 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT

Alonzo Highsmith: 5-for-9, 82 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT

Rushing leaders

Lamar Miller: 9 carries, 85 yards, 1 TD

Damien Berry: 11 carries, 57 yards

Storm Johnson: 6 carries, 14 yards

Receiving leaders

Travis Benjamin: 3 receptions, 56 yards, 2 TDs

Mike James: 3 receptions, 18 yards

Defensive leaders

Sean Spence: 6 tackles, pass break-up

Colin McCarthy: 6 tackles

Micanor Regis: 5 tackles, sack, forced fumble

Ramon Buchanan: 5 tackles

Ray-Ray Armstrong: 4 tackles, forced fumble

Brandon Harris: 4 tackles, 2 pass break-ups, fumble recovery

Special teams highlights

- All field goals and extra points attempted by Matt Bosher and Jake Wieclaw were successful, including a 45-yarder by Bosher in pouring rain.

- Kacy Rodgers and Cory Nelms teamed up to block a punt attempt.

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