Replacing Mark Walton: Where Miami will turn
Mark Richt’s second season at Miami is off to quite an impressive start as the Canes are 4-0 after a victory at archrival Florida State. But not everything is sunny in Coral Gables as star running back Mark Walton was injured against the ‘Noles and had season-ending surgery earlier this week. Miami has recruited well across the board in recent years, but what do the options look like to fill Walton’s shoes? We take a look back at how the current running backs on Miami’s roster stacked up as recruits and also revisit some “What If?” scenarios about former Hurricanes who have since moved on.
A South Florida native who committed to the ‘Canes over Alabama, Florida and Florida State in the class of 2016, Homer has been Walton’s primary backup for the first half of the season. He saw spot playing time in 2016, rushing for 77 total yards on the season and has 25 carries for 212 yards and three touchdowns this year. Many Miami fans were high on Homer coming out of high school and now he will have to step into Walton’s shoes and carry the load for the rest of year. Can he keep up his impressive 8.5 yards per carry average? If so, the Canes should be in good shape despite the loss of Walton.
Ranked as a three-star athlete, Gray chose Miami over Cincinnati and South Florida and had designs on playing quarterback for the Canes. That plan never materialized and he instead was moved to running back, where he has seen spot duty in his first three seasons. His best year came in 2016, when he rushed for 145 yards and two touchdowns. He’s the only Miami back outside of Walton and Homer to have a rushing attempt in 2017 and he has four carries for 34 yards.
Burns began his high school career with a bang, adding major offers following his freshman season from Alabama, Ohio State, Tennessee and several others. He ended his recruitment early by committing to Miami in the spring of his sophomore season, but due to a number of injuries his production as a high school prospect never really matched his offer sheet. Burns’ issues with health have followed him to Miami and he’s still waiting for his first college carry and seems like a redshirt candidate, even with the injury to Walton.
A four-star athlete who originally committed to Richt while he was at Georgia, Dallas stuck with the coaching staff and flipped to the Canes once Richt was fired in Athens. A versatile athlete who played a number of positions in high school including quarterback and defensive back, Dallas has been moved to running back following Walton’s injury to bolster the depth at the position. Dallas has one catch for 16 yards as a wide receiver and with his versatility, it wouldn’t be a shock to see him get a chance for a few carries as the season moves along.
Crispian Atkins, TJ Callan, James Murphy
None of the three Hurricanes walk-ons at the position have recorded stats during their careers in Miami. If any could carve out a role with Walton injured, Atkins would be the primary candidate.
A decorated high school recruit and part of one of the best high school backfields in recent memory as he paired with five-star and eventual first-round draft pick Dalvin Cook while at Miami (Fla.) Central. Yearby was once committed to Florida State but then flipped to Miami during the winter of his junior year in high school. He saw immediate playing time at Miami, rushing for 500 yards as a true freshman and then cracking the 1,000-yard rushing mark in 2015. But the emergence of Walton in 2016 cut Yearby’s carries in half and despite rushing for just 608 yards in 2016, he decided to leave school to enter the NFL Draft. Yearby went undrafted and unsigned, and despite a few tryouts appears to be out of football.
A three-star running back from Staten Island, N.Y., Edwards had a surprising number of options in the Southeast, including Florida State and Miami. He took official visits to both schools, as well as Syracuse, and announced his commitment to the Canes on National Signing Day 2013. Despite the presence of eventual second-round NFL Draft pick Duke Johnson on the roster, Edwards carved out a nice role for himself in Miami, rushing for more than 300 yards in each of his first two seasons with the Canes. But an injury caused him to miss the entire 2015 season and he had his lowest output as a Hurricane with 290 yards in 2016. Looking for a bigger role, Edwards elected to transfer following his graduation from Miami, and he landed at Rutgers, where he has started every game this season and currently leads the team in rushing with 302 yards.
The son of NFL and Miami legend Ray Lewis, the three-star running back was destined for the Canes once he became a college prospect. Lewis put up huge numbers during his high school career as a running back, but was moved to defensive back upon arriving in Miami. He eventually transferred to Coastal Carolina, where he played in five games before he was dismissed from the team following an arrest for charges of sexual assault that would later be dismissed.