With Miami’s 15 spring practices in the rearview mirror, it’s worth taking a position by position look at where things stand, and today we look at the RB position:
PROJECTED MIAMI QB DEPTH CHART
1st team: Henry Parrish
Co-2nd team: Don Chaney
Co-2nd team: Mark Fletcher
Co-2nd team: Christopher Johnson
There were only two healthy scholarship backs available this spring: Returning starter Henry Parrish and oft-injured Don Chaney. Chaney made it through spring healthy, although coaches says he is still working to drop some weight, and Parrish looked similar to a year ago. Parrish is a serviceable back with decent speed and can catch well out of the backfield, while Chaney is in a power mold who can wear down a D and if he drops weight should have good enough speed to be a difference-maker. Are either first team All-ACC type talents? We wouldn’t say so at this point. So there is room for a true freshman like Mark Fletcher or Christopher Johnson – both summer arrivals – to come in and get a lot of reps. Fletcher is in the every down back mold that Miami Coach Mario Cristobal favors with a combination of size and speed, while Johnson is smaller but a flat out burner with state championship track speed. Johnson is a guy who also catches well out of the backfield and could line up in the slot at times. He can be a multi-purpose weapon. So there is a lot to like here … but from the spring itself we weren’t really wowed by Parrish or Chaney. And no back had even a carry for 10 yards in the spring game despite the DL missing key pieces. So that wasn’t a great sign. Also note that redshirt freshman TreVonte’ Citizen remains in a bulky knee brace and it’s uncertain if he would be ready to play this season.
A LOOK UNDER THE HOOD
Parrish is a very good back and experience counts for a lot when you’re breaking in a new offense and are going to have a revamped offensive line. Parrish’s history? After serving in a backup role for two seasons at Mississippi (including 553 rush yards and three TDs in Year 2), Parrish transferred in (following his former Ole Miss coach Kevin Smith) and ended last season with 616 rush yards (4.7 yards per carry) and four TDs. He added 17 catches for 120 yards and two more scores. So it wasn’t by any means a “wow,” but he ran hard and was hampered by an offensive line that didn’t open many holes. His Pro Football Focus grades: Parrish graded out at an excellent 80.6 percent overall last year in 374 reps (84.9 as a runner). He’s not going to power past you as a smaller back, but he has good enough quickness and speed to make plays.
A former four-star prospect out of Miami Belen, his only relatively healthy season was his freshman year in 2020 when he played off the bench and had 68 carries for 322 yards with three TDs (adding 143 receiving yards on 11 catches). In 2021 he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in Game 2, then was injured again heading into this past season and didn’t return until the final Pittsburgh game in late November. He ran twice for eight yards in that game. So there really hasn’t been a lot on which to judge Chaney’s ability level recently. Per Pro Football Focus, Chaney graded out at 66.2 percent on 206 reps in 2020, 65.4 on 41 reps in 2021 and 61.1 percent on 15 reps this past season. He’s struggled in pass protection, a must for a back, with a ridiculously low 9.5 percent grade as a freshman and 30.9 percent in ’21. So that has to improve and he has to stay healthy.
Now let’s talk about Fletcher for a moment. The former Ohio State commitment out of Plantation American Heritage ultimately decided to stay home, and his high school coach, Mike Smith, says “The first person you want to go to (as a comparison) is Derrick Henry because he’s a bigger, taller back. He’s the kind of guy that has his own unique running style.” When Fletcher gets on campus he will have to work on the other aspects of his game like knowing the playbook and pass blocking, but from a running standpoint he can step in Day 1 and be a contributor. Fletcher ended his senior season with 1,934 yards, averaging 8.6 yards per carry with 23 rushing TDs.
With Johnson, the comparison has been made to an Alvin Kamara type back given his track speed (won state titles in the 100 in 10.4 seconds and 200 in 51.8 seconds) and excellent pass catching skills. He chose Miami over Clemson and had offers from top programs around the nation. Dillard coach Tyler Johnson says of Johnson, who is on the smaller side at 6-0 and 195 pounds, that “He can do everything, is a slasher, very fast, quick and explosive. He can play slot receiver, also outside receiver, catch the ball out of the backfield. He has high versatility, different ways you can use him.”
As for Citizen, he suffered a major knee injury in the preseason last year and in reality may not be fully back until 2024. When healthy he’s a big, physical back and is listed at 6-1 and 221 pounds. His strength level? Well, he was squatting 600 as a freshman at Miami and had a 295-pound bench. So he’s a bruiser and will be a good one down the line. We’re just not sure it will be this year for him.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Miami’s running game was not good last season, with the rushing attack averaging 3.7 yards per carry and really unable to carry the offense other than very early in the year. Media weren’t able to watch a lot of team drills this spring, but the Spring Game didn’t show much of a different rushing attack with no carries of even 10 yards in the first half (the second half was no tackling to the ground and a running clock). Was last year’s running attack hampered by a not-real-good O line? Absolutely. And the line should be better this year. But it’s still a question as to how explosive the run game can be with Parrish and Chaney. This might be a team that needs the elite speed of a Johnson or the power/speed combo of Fletcher. There is going to be a lot determined in fall camp here, but for now we think Miami coaches will be most comfortable starting the season with Parrish in the backfield since he’s very experienced. From there it might be a case of go with the hot hand. And there is going to be a lot more talent in the running back room. It’s just a case of these guys showing it in games and being put in position to make plays.
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