Running backs to carry offensive load

Edgerrin James. Willis McGahee. Clinton Portis. Frank Gore. For years, the University of Miami has produced quality running back talents that, in their prime, could be seen atop NFL depth charts and fantasy teams alike.

Now the Hurricanes have two backs on their squad looking to make an impact.

Junior Mike James and redshirt sophomore Lamar Miller are expected to lead the way for a Hurricanes running back corps that opposing defenses may see as dangerous. The duo is affectionately called “Smash and Dash,” for James’s bruising, hard-hitting running style that contrasts to Miller’s ability to dodge the first wave of defenders and race down the field.

“Some fans came up with it and we just used it from there,” said James when asked about the nickname.

Although Damien Barry took the majority of the carries in his senior season last year, Miller and James were right behind him on the depth chart. Miller carried the ball 108 times for 646 yards and six touchdowns, with James rushing 70 times for 398 yards.

Miller also exploded for 166 yards and three touchdowns during the annual spring game held in April.

Joining them in the backfield will be Eduardo Clements, who was originally a running back, but switched  to safety in March, which he played during spring camp. In early August, the decision to switch him back to running back was made to ensure there was depth behind James and Miller.

In addition to sharing responsibilities as a backup running back, Clements is also expected to be a major contributor on special teams, being used as a kickoff and punt returner.

“Our job as coaches is to get the best 22 on the field, and we think right now that he has a better shot to impact this team and help this team on offense,” head coach Al Golden said.

The team also awaits word on the status of running back Kevin Grooms of South Broward High School. Grooms has been dealing with eligibility issues with the NCAA Clearinghouse that prevent him from playing until they are sorted out.

Miami hasn’t had a 1,000-yard rusher in a season since Willis McGahee in 2002. Many around the program, including Miller and James, believe that they can both finish the season above that plateau.

Such a feat has yet to be reached in the storied running back history of Hurricanes football.

Both James and Miller have the ability to carry the load for the team, but they would like nothing more than to share the wealth.

“We’re just a tight group,” James said. “All of us want to succeed, do anything to help the team out.”

But that doesn’t mean there’s not any competition between the two backs. When asked if Miller finished a game with 150 yards on 10 carries, James added he would “be right behind him, probably at 135.”

“If he scores, you best believe I’m trying to get into the end zone,” he said.