A few weeks ago, the Miami Hurricanes were looking pretty solid on the running back front. Recruiting was going smoothly—with a few early enrollees expected—and "The U" remained in the mix for a few undecided prospects.
Since then, the wheels have slightly fallen off and must be put back on between now and national signing day.
Miami proved one-dimensional at running back last fall after losing Duke Johnson in early November at Florida State. Dallas Crawford and Gus Edwards were serviceable in relief, but neither rose up as a next-level option for the Hurricanes, who started 7-0 and went 2-4 with Johnson sidelined.
The recruiting trail was expected to provide offseason answers to all of next fall's questions, but is coming up short.
5-star prospect Dalvin Cook may have been a long shot for Miami, but as of early January, at least the Hurricanes were still in the running. That all changed at the Under Armour All-America Game when the Miami Central prospect decommitted from Florida and went with eventual national champion Florida State.
The Hurricanes took another hit last week when 3-star prospect Brandon Powell spurned Miami at the final hour, instead choosing Florida. Set to be an early enrollee, something shifted late in the process and Powell went with the Gators, who were all over him following's Cook's decommit.
Months back, the Hurricanes also lost out on 5-star prospect Sony Michel, who was pro-Miami for years but decided against staying home for college and is ready to suit up for Georgia.
Miami will bring in Cook's high school teammate, Joseph Yearby—a 4-star prospect in his own right—but an early-December injury will keep him out of spring practice despite being one of a few early enrollees.
Needing some depth at the position, coaches have since shifted their focus to JUCO transfer De'Andre Mann, who ran behind former Hurricanes star Lamar Miller in high school. Miami is also looking at Kameron McKnight, a 3-star prospect out of Louisiana measuring in at 6'2" and 215 pounds, which would give UM another much-needed, bigger-bodied back.
The Hurricanes didn't sport a legitimate two-headed running back combo last season and the ground game—as well as the smaller Johnson—suffered as a result.
In 2012, Johnson split carries with durable senior Mike James. James—currently with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers—had a good 30 pounds on the then-190-pound true freshman, making for a "thunder and lightning" situation on the ground at Miami.
In an early-season comeback win at Georgia Tech, Johnson carried 13 times for 72 yards and hauled in four receptions for 38 yards, but James was the late-game option when the Hurricanes needed the tough yards. The senior ended the game with 15 carries for 89 yards with three touchdowns and had three receptions for 24 yards and a score.
Contrast that type of balance to a lack thereof last season, as Johnson carried 22 times for 184 yards in a win over Georgia Tech and put up a 30-carry performance against Wake Forest where a chunk of his 168 yards came in a late fourth-quarter rally.
After 23 carries for 97 yards at Florida State last season, Johnson finally gave out, rolled up in a pile, resulting in a broken ankle. In just under eight full games, Johnson carried 145 times—six more carries than he amassed during his entire freshman campaign.
Like the incoming Yearby, Johnson is also set to miss spring practice while recovering, putting even more pressure on Miami to solidify a No. 2 with all backups relied upon heavily come April.
Crawford and Edwards will handle the heavy lifting until fall practice, with at least one needing to take a giant leap forward, as last year's inconsistency won't cut it this season.
Outside of that, the 'Canes will hold out for a Mann and/or McKnight, while hoping there are no setbacks in the recoveries of Johnson and Yearby. This predicament further proves how important it was to nab an instant-impact back such as Cook, Powell or Michel. Anything less has to be considered settling at this point.
A healthy Johnson will go a long way toward carrying Miami this fall, but the junior cannot attempt to do it alone. Help will have to come in the form of a few returning veterans or a surprise freshman ready to carry the load.
Recruit rankings courtesy of 247Sports.com.
Follow Chris Bello on Twitter @allCanesBlog.com.
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