New look running attack

Graig Cooper is hoping to improve on a good freshman season, while Javarris James is hoping to get back to form. The Canes have plenty of depth at running back and finally have some lead blockers at fullback. CanesTime.com takes a closer look at the two positions.

The players:

Running Backs:
Damien Berry, 5-11, 210, SO
Lee Chambers, 5-10, 180, SO
Graig Cooper, 6-0, 205, SO
Javarris James, 6-0, 215, JR
Shawnbrey McNeal, 5-11, 190, SO
Derron Thomas, 5-9, 205, SR

Fullbacks:
John Calhoun, 6-3, 245, FR
Patrick Hill, 5-9, 260, JR
Eric Houston, 6-2, 230, JR

The amount of talent at the running back position over the years at the University of Miami has been incredible. From Otis Anderson to Alonzo Highsmith to Cleveland Gary to all the great backs in recent years, this program has been blessed with tremendous running back talent. But ever since Willis McGahee took his show to the NFL following the 2002 season, the Canes haven't had a big time, difference maker at the running back position.

Many thought Tyrone Moss, after a solid freshman season, would be the guy. That never panned out and he ended his career as a backup. Then people thought signing five star Charlie Jones out of high school would help. He never played up to his billing and has since transferred.

Then the Canes landed Javarris James, younger cousin to Edgerrin, and his solid freshman season had a lot of people excited. But in two years as the starter, James has only averaged 4.1 yards per carry and his sophomore season had people wondering what happened from the year before. James, who can be the type of back to get 20 carries a game and be effective late in the games wearing down defenses, carried the ball 159 times last season and his longest run was just 23 yards. That had people wondering what happened to the explosiveness that he flashed the year before.

If Miami's to become a dominant force running the ball again, it needs James to step up and be the total package. He showed flashes of that in the spring and it'll be exciting to see what he can do this season as he seems to be more healthy than ever before now.

Cooper, who was sort of a co-starter as a true freshman last season, showed plenty of explosiveness in his first year. His 5.5 per carry average and a long of 56 yards have people excited about what he can do. He brings a little more speed in the open field and while he won't have the same impact as James going between the tackles deep into games, he provides a tremendous 1-2 punch along with James and the UM offense will hopefully take advantage of that this season. A bulked up Cooper will likely be able to break more tackles this season and initiate better contact with his runs.

Sophomore Shawnbrey McNeal may be the most explosive of the three. He saw limited action as a first year player, getting just 20 carries but showed flashes at times, including on a 39-yard touchdown scamper against Georgia Tech. Look for him to play an increased role in the offense as he's now in his second year in the program and has a better grasp of the offensive system. Derron Thomas has been around awhile. A career backup, he's given the Canes a burst at times late in games. His 40 carries last season resulted in 200 yards, including a 54-yarder. Now a senior, he'll be looking to go out in a big way this year.

There are two other running backs in the mix now – redshirt freshman Lee Chambers and sophomore Damien Berry. Chambers didn't play last season because of a redshirt while Berry comes over from the defensive side of the ball. A running back in high school, Berry began his UM career at safety before getting switched over to the offensive side of the ball earlier in the season. It was probably done to give UM another big back, something Randy Shannon and this coaching staff seem to like. It'll be interesting to see what type of roles Chambers and Berry play in the offense this year.

Fullbacks:

The fullback hasn't been involved much in Miami's offense the last couple years but that's probably because they haven't had one capable of making a big impact on the field. Do they want to involve one? Well, considering they went out and signed a Junior College transfer and a high school player to come in here and be blocking fullbacks, you have to believe they do.

The leading candidate to be the starting fullback is Patrick Hill, a 5-9 bulldozer who does a tremendous job of lead blocking because of his size, athletic ability, and physical nature. His athleticism will allow him to catch balls out of the backfield but his main role will likely be to clear the path for UM's talented running backs. If you think back to when UM's had great success at running back, including having Nick Williams blocking for Edgerrin, there was usually a good blocking fullback involved. Hopefully Hill will provide that again for the Canes over the next two years.

The Hurricanes also signed John Calhoun, who was a defensive player midway through his senior season in high school. His high school coach (Randy Bethel) played at UM and is friendly with some of the coaches. He encouraged Calhoun to play fullback the second half of his senior season and it worked out well – he landed the offer from the Canes. He got a head start by enrolling in school early, which gave him a chance to run through spring drills, and he'll likely provide backup to Hill this season.

Another possible option at fullback is junior Eric Houston, a converted linebacker. Houston was never able to crack the lineup on defense and will try to utilize his talents in the offensive backfield now.

Having a first time quarterback under center this year, the Canes will likely see a lot of opposing defenses stacking the line of scrimmage trying to force the young quarterback into making plays in the passing game. That will make it tougher on the running backs but hopefully the fullbacks can help pave the way for successful seasons for the running backs. Hopefully Hill will play a key role, James comes out and shows more explosiveness than we saw in 2007, Cooper continues showing improvement from year one to year two, and the other guys involved make plays in both the running game and the passing game.


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