Duke Johnson

Browns RBs coach concerned about disappearing Duke Johnson

Browns running back coach Wilbert Montgomery, who’s coached the likes of Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk, was at a loss Tuesday to explain the disappearance of Duke Johnson in the second half of games.

“I can’t,” he said. “That’s a question that you’d have to ask Flip (offensive coordinator John DeFilippo) because I don’t call the plays. I put guys in the game based upon our personnel groupings.”

Johnson, the Browns third-round pick out of Miami, had one touch in the second half of the 34-20 loss to the Cardinals game despite the Browns being up 20-10 at the half. The next game, the 31-10 loss to the Bengals, Johnson didn’t touch the ball at all in the second half despite the Browns trailing only 14-10 at the half and 17-10 in the third. During Sunday’s 30-9 loss in Pittsburgh, Johnson had only two second-half touches after the Browns fell behind 21-3 at the break.

Overall, Johnson is 58th in the NFL with only 189 yards and tied for 161st with a 3.0-yard average. But he’s being used primarily as a receiver out of the backfield, and has more than twice as many receiving yards (387) as rushing yards.

Try as he might, Montgomery couldn’t hide the fact that he’s unhappy with the Browns’ lack of a running game and their tumble to 31st in the league.
“It’s frustrating for everyone,” he said.

Asked if he’s satisfied with the commitment to the run, he said, “I can’t answer that one. I can’t answer that question because if you look at the history of guys that I had, they got the ball.”

Montgomery is also dismayed by the fact that none of his backs has become the bellcow like an Adrian Peterson in Minnesota or a rookie Todd Gurley in St. Louis. He’s accustomed to coaching stars like Faulk, who’s currently 10th on the NFL’s all-time rushing list, and Steven Jackson, who’s 17th.

“We don’t have that,” he said. “We don’t have guys that have been drafted that high that can do that. So you got a list of young guys that are trying to play their roles in whatever the role calls. There are things that Duke is good at doing that Isaiah Crowell is not good at doing. There’s things Crow is good at that Duke is not.”

He hoped one of his backs would emerge, but it hasn’t happened, in part because the Browns are much more pass-oriented this year, throwing 382 times against 226 runs. What’s more, they’ve fallen behind and have had to abandon the run in the second half.

“It’s hard when you don’t get opportunities to carry the ball,” he said. “You have to give (Crowell) the opportunity to be Crowell just like you have to give Duke the opportunity to be Duke.”

With six games left in the season, Crowell is 38th in the NFL with 328 yards and 157th with a 3.1-yard average. Johnson is all the way down the list, behind quarterbacks such as Aaron Rodgers and Andrew Luck. But Crowell has averaged only about 10 carries a game and Johnson, 6.

“Everything you do as a runner, you have to get a rhythm and the way we’ve been playing and how we’ve been playing hasn’t allowed the running backs to do what they can do and to showcase their abilities out there on the field,” said Montgomery. “The rhythm is after you have touched the ball a certain number of times so you get a feel for what the defense is presenting to you. You get to understand the blocking scheme a little bit more, you can make your reads off the blocking scheme.”

He acknowledged that falling behind hasn’t helped.

“When you’re playing from behind and you make a lot of mistakes on early downs, jump offsides, miscues, now you’re playing behind the downs. you’ve got to stay ahead of downs in order to be effective in the run game,” he said. “The running backs have to get more yards when they have an opportunity, and the line has to do a better job and the tight ends have to do a better job on holding up their end of the bargain as well, and that’s blocking.”

The running game reached a new low in Pittsburgh, where the Browns rushed for only 15 yards on 14 carries and went backwards more than they went forward. They lost yards on five of 14 runs, and on eight of their 11 handoffs, they either gained 1 yard, were stopped cold or driven into the backfield for a loss.

Their leading rusher was Johnny Manziel, who gained 17 yards on his three carries. Crowell rushed for minus-5 yards on six carries and Johnson managed 10 yards on four carries.

“I was shocked at Pittsburgh because Pittsburgh was never a penetrating defense,” said Montgomery. “They were always a key read defense, they’re a two-gap defense, they saw where you were going and then they would run and make tackles. They played fast. Well, this Pittsburgh defense was different. They penetrated and that was the difference in the ballgame.

“You’re working something that you thought they were. Then you get in a game and they’re doing something totally different. Those guys were big and strong and explosive and they were getting up field on us.”

He explained that Manziel had a little more success than the backs that game because “he has the opportunity. He has more freedom. He has an open field when he’s out of the pocket. He’s scrambling. The lanes are there for him when he’s scrambling out. It’s not there for the running backs so that’s different.”

He acknowledged that it’s a passing league, but that it’s still important to run.

“I know everyone wants to see pass, pass, pass and the running game is what it is,” he said. “You just want to win. The biggest question is to win however you choose to win. You have to find a balance in it and then live with whatever you choose to do.”

Crowell noted that the Browns ran the ball a lot more last year under Kyle Shanahan, who ran the wide zone scheme.

“That’s why I guess it looks like we had a lot of success comparing the two seasons,” he said. “I feel like we’ve still got the players and talent to do it. I feel like we just gotta keep working and I feel like it will all come together.”

He’s also surprised the Browns go away from the run in the second half.

“I feel the same way you feel,” he told reporters. “But I just listen to the coaches, go by what they say, and just listen to them because they’re in control. I’m just going along with what they want.”

Montgomery explained that running back Robert Turbin, who was recently cut and picked up Wednesday weeks with a sprained ankle. Turbin was let go after he dropped two handoffs against the Cardinals.

“Turbin never was 100 percent,” Montgomery said. “It’s hard to play guys when you put the ball on the ground. Not only do you let the team down, you let the city down, you let the organization down and it’s a nasty feeling when you fumble the ball. He understands that. And he hadn’t been hit, so I would take the blame on that, because I don’t think the timing was there.

“He hadn’t been in the camps. I didn’t know anything about Turbin, we picked him up and I didn’t get a chance to work with him, so therefore it was new to me to putting him in there. We talk about his problems, because he carried the ball low. When you carry the ball low, you’re going to have that fumbling problem.”

Regardless of who’s running the ball, it takes a village to churn out the yards.

“It takes 11 guys to make it work, and it’s not on the runner,” said Montgomery. “Everybody has to do their job and it starts with the running back. We’ve got to win our individual battles. We’ve got to win our individual wars up there. And then the running backs have to make people miss at times and they have to break tackles in order to get going. But you just like to get started. That’s the key to running the ball.”

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Duke Johnson: 28 yards in loss

Johnson rushed four times for 10 yards and caught all four targets for 18 receiving yards Sunday against the Steelers.

Johnson led the Browns' backfield in rushing yards despite the low total, as starter Isaiah Crowell rushed six times for minus-5 yards. Johnson's ability to contribute in the passing game keeps him in the fantasy conversation, though his upside continues to be limited because of Crowell. Next up is a Week 12 trip to Baltimore following the Browns' Week 11 bye.

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Duke Johnson is evidence the Cleveland Browns do get it right sometimes

BEREA, Ohio – As Johnny Manziel stood in the center of the locker room Wednesday defending his right to enjoy himself away the training facility, Andrew Hawkins spoke about the importance of professionalism.

The subject was the team's youngest player. The assessment was glowing.

"I think Duke (Johnson) is a great player and he's just scratching the surface," the veteran receiver said. "He works hard and he's a good pro, which is something I look for with rookies coming in. Do they understand the business of football? Do they come in and do their jobs to the best of their abilities? That's what I see Duke doing."

Browns fans have grown conditioned in recent seasons to expect the worst from their draft picks. They either Play Like a (Charlie) Brown on the field or act like a knucklehead away from it. The special ones, no names please, hit with power to both fields.

In a season where so much appears lost, it's worth remembering the organization sometimes gets it right. That's certainly the case with Johnson, who doesn't turn 23 until next September.

The University of Miami product is a rarity around these parts – a bona fide playmaker who arrived as advertised.

The third-round pick is not yet making a significant impact in the rushing attack (who is?) but the versatile back is a weapon in the pass game. It's that facet the Browns hyped on draft night and all through OTAs.

Imagine that, a youngster playing to expectation. Maybe it's not big news in some NFL precincts, but it's a welcome change in Berea, where rookies often depreciate in value the moment they leave their introductory news conference.

Among all league backs, Johnson ranks fourth in receiving yards (369) and receiving touchdowns (two) and sixth in catches (35).

"He has certainly shown in his rookie year that it is not too big for him and he can be very productive," coach Mike Pettine said. "There are a lot of graduate level details that he needs to get cleaned up, but ... we are very pleased with where Duke is."

Some contend using the 77th pick on a running back who's essentially a wide receiver is a bit high. Fair point. The counter argument is: Have you seen the Browns' receiving corps?

Johnson lines up all over the formation and is arguably the toughest matchup for opposing defensive coordinators. Since Week 4, he's caught passes for 34, 27, 21, 52 and 26 yards. Only tight end Gary Barnidge can better those big-play sums since the season's opening month.

"I was down there at his pro day and saw him run routes and catch the ball and do some of those things so I'm not surprised by some of the things he's been able to do," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said on a Wednesday conference call. "I think it was quite evident for those of us who were on hand at his pro day."

A concussion and hamstring injury forced him to miss virtually the entire training camp. Johnson didn't resemble the dynamic player the Browns described in the season's first two games. Then, he caught a short pass late in the 27-20 loss to the Raiders, made a couple defenders miss and gained 19 yards.

Johnson has been an elusive presence ever since – sometimes even to his quarterbacks and offensive coordinator. Both Josh McCown and Manziel have missed the wide-open running back on multiple occasions. His 26-yard catch against the Bengals could have netted a huge gain had Manziel spotted him earlier in the route.

But the 5-foot-9, 210 pounder seldom complains. Not even when the Browns have failed to get him the ball in the second half of losses to the Cardinals and Bengals.

"I was out there (against Cincinnati)," Johnson said. "I just wasn't making plays."

John DeFilippo vowed to make more use of running backs in the pass game and Johnson has enabled the first-year coordinator to deliver on the promise.

Despite a strong start, the rookie hardly acts as though he has the game figured out.

"(I need to) improve every aspect of my game," he said. "I'm catching the ball well, but I could do it better. I'm running routes OK, but I could do it better. I'm running the ball average and I know I could do it better. ... (Same) with passing blocking."

Johnson also didn't duck answering a pointed question as to why the Browns have managed a combined three points after intermission in the past three games.
"We're leaving the offense in the locker room," he said. "I don't think we come out to play in the second half. First half we come out the way we want and the second half we come out and tell ourselves we're going to come out even better, but yet we don't do it."

No rookie-speak there. No "that's a better question for the coaches." Here is a player who expects more of himself and his team.

Johnson and the Browns need to get more out of him in the running game. He's carried the ball just 59 times for 179 yards. Johnson refuses to lobby for more carries, though.

"To me, touches are touches," he said. "However I get the ball in my hands is fine."

We spend lots of time analyzing what the Browns have gotten wrong in recent drafts. General Manager Ray Farmer and his staff got this one right.

Duke Johnson is a good pro and he's getting better.

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TD Streak Extended - 7 TDs Scored

SEVEN #‎proCane TDs were scored in Week 10 of the NFL!

#Browns RB Duke Johnson, #‎Dolphins RB Lamar Miller (2), #Panthers TE Greg Olsen, #Raiders TE Clive Walford, #Jags WR Allen Hurns, #Colts RB Frank Gore.

Duke Johnson’s TD extended the streak to 15 straight weeks a #proCane has scored a TD in the #‎NFL. Greg Olsen’s TD was also the 500th reception of his career!

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Duke Johnson scores in loss to Cincinnati

Duke Johnson rushed three times for no yards and caught two of four targets for 38 yards and a touchdown in the Browns' Week 9 loss to the Bengals.

The touchdown came late in the first half on a play where Vontaze Burfict lost him in coverage. Johnson also produced a 26-yard catch on a running throw by Johnny Manziel. That was Cleveland’s longest play of the night. Even with little involvement in the running game, Johnson is a good enough receiver to warrant flex consideration most weeks. He'll get the Steelers in Week 10.

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Duke Johnson totals 71 yards on 3 touches

Duke Johnson rushed one time for three yards and caught both of his targets for 68 yards in the Browns' Week 8 loss to the Cardinals.

Johnson surprisingly played very little after chewing up 52 yards on a first-half catch-and-run that set up Gary Barnidge's three-yard touchdown. Robert Turbin got a bunch of second-half work and fumbled twice, losing one. Johnson simply needs a lot more playing time. Both Turbin and Isaiah Crowell have proven to be average-to-below average runners. Johnson remains and RB2/3 in PPR formats and will get the Bengals on the road on Thursday night.

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Duke Johnson Totals 90 Yards

Duke Johnson totaled 90 yards as the Browns fell short to the Rams 24-6 in Week 7. He only averaged 2.8 yards rushing on the day, but hauled in 7-of-7 targets for 73 yards. (ESPN)

Fantasy Impact: Johnson has major appeal moving forward, particulartly in PPR leagues. Despite the Browns ranking 28th in rushing production per game, they rank 8th in passing yards. That bodes well for Johnson's fantasy value as a passing-down specialist.

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Duke Johnson will play through shoulder issue

Browns RB Duke Johnson suffered a shoulder stinger in Sunday's loss to the Broncos, but is expected to suit up for Week 7.

Johnson could miss some practice time, but it's not a serious issue for a running back. Johnson has been catching a lot of passes, but his workloads are not the easiest to predict. He's just an RB3 for Week 7 against the Rams.

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Duke Johnson leads Cleveland backfield in rushing yards

Cleveland Browns running back Duke Johnson rushed nine times for 38 yards while also chipping in three catches for 18 yards against the Denver Broncos.

Fantasy Impact: The three receptions actually come as a disappointment, as the Broncos entered Week 6 allowing the second most receptions to running backs. Johnson gets a tough matchup agains the Rams next week and is better left on benches.

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Duke Johnson strives to live up to his own high expectations

BEREA, Ohio -- Duke Johnson stood in front of his locker on Thursday after practice, his green Incredible Hulk winter hat belying his calm demeanor. The rookie running back has started to show the promise of the player the Browns drafted in the third round back in May, catching 21 passes in the last three games for 172 yards and a score.

"I'm trying," Johnson said when asked about finding his stride. "I'm trying. It's a long season. Longer than I'm used to. I'm just trying to do it consistently and do it game in and game out."

Johnson was drafted to give the Browns something they lacked much of last season -- a playmaking back to catch the football out of the backfield. He's been that and more on a team that, coming into this season, was thought to be lacking in offensive weapons.

Johnson was slowed by a hamstring injury suffered on the third day of training camp. He missed the team's first two preseason games and suffered a concussion in the third preseason game in Tampa Bay. Still, he's been able to avoid the woes that some rookies suffer who miss those valuable reps.

"At the end of the day, it's football," Johnson said, "and as long as you prepare yourself the right way -- you miss training camp, but as long as you prepare, make sure you know what you're doing, when you get there you should be able to do fine."

In the end, Johnson said, others' expectations aren't important to him.

"My expectations are a lot higher than anyone can have for me," Johnson said. "As long as I live up to my expectations I'm fine."

What are his expectations?

"Go out there and play the best I can play for that one play," Johnson said. "Take it one play at a time."

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Duke Johnson handles 15 touches in Week 5

Duke Johnson managed 22 yards on nine carries, but secured 6-of-8 targets for 55 yards in the Browns' Week 5 win over the Ravens.

Johnson and early-down back Isaiah Crowell each handled 15 touches in this one. The Browns continue to utilize Johnson in creative ways to get him in space one-on-one against linebackers, and he's rewarded them with six receptions or more in three straight games. Johnson is an every-week PPR asset heading into Week 6, even against a stout Broncos defense.

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Duke Johnson: Al Golden kept team focused during hot seat talk

Miami fans have been paying money to fly a "Fire Al Golden" banner above the Hurricanes' games, even making arrangements to get the message in the sky during a road game at Cincinnati.

Al Golden's future has been a talking point this week with the Florida State game coming up on Saturday night in Tallahassee. When asked for a review of Golden as a coach, recent Hurricane great Duke Johnson said Golden always kept the team focused on the things they could control.

"It was amazing. I know I enjoyed my experience," Johnson told SI.com. "Even though people was calling for his job game in and game out, he did a good job of making sure we were prepared game in and game out and we were focused on what really matters -- the opponent that we played that Saturday night, or Thursday night, or whenever that game would be."

Johnson is Miami's all-time leading rusher, a native of the area and one of Al Golden's favorite players during his time with the Hurricanes. To hear Johnson support Golden is not surprising, but the situation he described -- "people calling for his job" -- matches the current state of affairs for the 2015 team.

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TD Streak Extended - 3 TDs Scored

THREE #‎proCane TDs were scored in Week 4 of the NFL!

#‎Jags WR Allen Hurns (1), #‎Browns RB Duke Johnson (1), #‎Falcons WR Leonard Hankerson (1).

Allen Hurns’ TD extended the streak to 10 straight weeks a #proCane has scored a TD in the #‎NFL.

Duke Johnson scored his first ever NFL TD on a 34-yard pass. Johnson finished the day with 116 total yards and 1 TD. 85 yards receiving, 31 yards rushing.

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Duke Johnson outshines Melvin Gordon

SAN DIEGO, Ca. -- Duke Johnson was anything but "just another body on the field,'' like he described himself after his NFL debut. In fact, he outshined fellow rookie running back Melvin Gordon, who was picked No. 15 overall by the Chargers.

Gordon, out of Wisconsin, also won the 2014 Doak Walker award as the nation's best running back and was the runner up for the Heisman Trophy. But during Sunday's 30-27 loss to the Chargers, the Browns' third-round pick out of Miami was the undisputed star of the backfield.

He caught nine passes for 85 yards, including a 34-yard touchdown -- the first of his career -- on the left side of the end zone that put the Browns up 10-7 with 14:10 left in the third. He also rushed eight times for 31 yards and a 3.9-yard average.

"Anytime you have a back that can be a first or second down back between the tackles, and a guy that you can also split out your number one wide out and hit him on a vertical route, that puts a lot of stress on a defense,'' said coach Mike Pettine. "He certainly will be a big part of our plans moving forward. That's a pretty good glimpse of how we'll be using him."

Gordon, meanwhile, caught only two passes for 8 yards and ran 12 times for 38 yards and a 3.2-yard average. The Browns bottled him up well most of the day, except for a 23-yard run in the second quarter that led to a field goal for a 10-10 tie.

"That's one of the reasons why I'm here, I bring different element in the passing game, just helping him out when we get in trouble, just dink and dunk and be able to get yards,'' said Johnson.

On the touchdown, Johnson motioned out into the slot on the left side, leaving the backfield empty. In the back of the end zone, he beat inside linebacker Donald Butler on the TD, made a nifty over-the-shoulder catch and tiptoed both of his feet inbounds.

"First one for a running back to get a receiving touchdown, it was cool, I enjoyed it,'' said Johnson.

So did McCown, who threw for 356 yards, most since his career-high of 398 in 2005.

"The catch Duke made on the first touchdown was one of the best catches I've seen by a running back,'' said quarterback Josh McCown. "To track a deep ball like that and to catch it over his shoulder, that's not something that they get a ton of time practicing. For him to do that it was just very, very impressive and really encouraging."

The Browns got a scare when McCown got  knocked into Johnson with 9:58 left and the running back was slow getting up. He walked off the field on his own and had his left ankle looked at. But he was back on the field on the next drive -- unfortunately only to lose five yards on a third down screen.

"I'm fine,'' he said. "I thought it was bad, but it's really nothing. I was able to go back in and help Crow out with the offense, do what I could do.''

McCown got fine performances out of both of his young running backs. Isaiah Crowell broke free for a 32-yard run that led to Johnson's TD catch two plays later, and turned a short dump over the middle into a 53-yard gain. He led the team with 63 rushing yards. Johnson's nine receptions tied for the fifth-most by a Browns running back in a game and were the most since 2002.

With Crowell (125) and Johnson (116), it marked the first time two Browns running backs each recorded more than 100 scrimmage yards in the same game since Nov. 17, 2004, when Lee Suggs (119) and William Green (115) did it against Cincinnati.

"They were awesome,'' said McCown. "Our young backs are coming along and that's something to be excited about. ... It's very, very encouraging what they were able to do today.

Like everyone else on the team, Johnson was crushed by the heartbreaking loss on the Josh Lambo field goal as time expired, a re-kick that occurred after Tramon Williams jumped offside on the first attempt.

"One thing it shows is we're going to fight to the end,'' said Johnson. "We're not going to lay down for anybody. It's tough, we fought back and both sides played hard, just couldn't come out with it.''

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Watch Duke Johnson's first career touchdown catch

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Duke Johnson gets 10 touches in Week 3

Duke Johnson managed three yards on four carries, but caught 6-of-7 targets for 32 yards in the Browns' Week 3 loss to the Raiders.

The Browns didn't target Johnson once in their first two games of the season. He finally got active in the passing game in this one, due in large part to catch-up mode. Johnson has yet to threaten Isaiah Crowell's early-down job, but does have some fantasy value as an RB3/flex. Johnson will be a low-end flex option in PPR when the Browns head to San Diego for Week 4.

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Duke Johnson only OK in Sunday win

Browns rookie running back Duke Johnson contributed 45 yards on 12 carries in a Sunday defeat of visiting Tennessee.

Johnson received three fewer carries than Isaiah Crowell, but his 3.6 yards per carry proved merely mediocre. The rookie didn't do anything special in this one, but he's too talented to not deliver results if he continues to be given opportunities in the Browns offense.

The team wants to rely on its ground game as much as possible, so there should be enough touches to go around for both Johnson and Crowell to stay fantasy-relevant.

Johnson will try to ramp up the production in Week 3 when Oakland comes to town.

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Duke Johnson has concussion

CLEVELAND — Duke Johnson's concussion has aggravated the Browns' headache at running back.

Johnson is following the NFL's protocol on head injuries after the rookie sustained a concussion in the first half of Saturday night's 31-7 win over Tampa Bay. Coach Mike Pettine said Sunday that Johnson, whose exhibition debut ended after he was rocked on a hit by Buccaneers cornerback Mike Jenkins, could be sidelined for some time.

The Browns have major plans this season for Johnson, a versatile third-round pick and Miami's career rushing leader. However, he hasn't been able to stay healthy.

He missed Cleveland's first two preseason games and was limited throughout training camp by a hamstring issue — a condition he said dates to high school.
Johnson only carried the ball once and caught one pass against the Buccaneers, so the Browns still don't know what Johnson can do.

"We have seen what he can do in practice and that is important," Pettine said. "That is why we were so positive and optimistic about it. Football is about availability. He hasn't been available for much of the preseason. While we are hopeful about the potential, at the same time, it is discouraging to not have him out there."

Johnson's injury, and those to veteran Shaun Draughn and Glenn Winston, has left the Browns thin at running back. Second-year backs Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell have not produced as expected and Pettine said the team may consider other options at the position.

One of them could be Ray Rice.

The former Baltimore back, released by the Ravens following his domestic abuse case, is available and waiting for a second chance. Pettine has acknowledged the Browns have discussed the possibility of signing Rice, who played for Cleveland running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery in Baltimore.

Pettine did not mention Rice by name when asked specifically about him Sunday.

"If we do come to the decision that we need to add a back that is not here, we'll look at the list of backs that are available," he said.

Rice is reportedly in excellent shape and excited for an opportunity to play. The Browns have to first consider if he can help them, and also what kind of public backlash they could face in signing a player with his reputation.

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Duke Johnson primed for 'real big' role?

ESPN Cleveland's Tony Grossi expects third-round RB Duke Johnson to have a "real big" role if he can stay healthy.

The Browns have been alluding to it all summer, but it's grown more likely as Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West have dawdled through the preseason. Johnson missed a ton of practice time with a hamstring issue, but all will be forgotten if he puts on a show in this weekend's regular season dress rehearsal. At the very least, Johnson will be Cleveland's third-down back in Week 1.

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Duke Johnson will be used heavily in 3rd game

Browns OC John DeFilippo said he expects rookie RB Duke Johnson to have a significant role in the third preseason game.

Considering the third preseason game is often viewed as a regular season dress rehearsal, this could point to a large regular season role for the rookie. Terrance West shined in the second preseason game, but neither he nor Isaiah Crowell has impressed as receivers. Johnson was one of the best receiving backs in this year's class.

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Mike Pettine says Duke Johnson 'looks explosive' on 1st day back in pads

BEREA, Ohio -- Rookie running back Duke Johnson practiced in pads Saturday for the first time since Aug. 1, and hardly looked like he'd been nursing a sore hamstring for the past three weeks.

Johnson churned out some yards in a 9-on-9 inside running drill and then had a pass from Josh McCown glance off his hands in 7-on-7s. He later caught a post route from Johnny Manziel in 7-on-7s and then a right screen from McCown, which he turned upfield for a long gain.

"His legs looked fresh,'' said Pettine. "I am not sure who he beat on the inside post – He looks explosive."

On one play, fellow back Isaiah Crowell blocked for him.

"It's tough on a defense when you have both tailbacks out there,'' said coach Mike Pettine. "You can use Duke as a wideout. It just gives you a little more flexibility from a formation standpoint, which then lends itself to a possible mismatch when you use Duke as a wideout. You can react to what a defense puts out there and call your play accordingly. That is something I am sure we will use."

Johnson said Saturday that the long layoff wouldn't set him back for the opener, and after watching him Sunday, you have almost had to believe him.
But the Browns had him on a pitch count Sunday.

"The last stretch of practice, we didn't use him,'' said Pettine. "On the last play, Flip (offensive coordinator John DeFilippo) wanted to use him and I used executive veto power and pulled Duke out of the huddle because he had sat for a little too long. He was right at his number."

Running back Shaun Draughn, who's mentored Johnson, was glad to see the rookie back in action.

"I actually love Duke's style,'' said Draughn. "I told him he reminds me of me a little bit. Another guy that looks up to me, and I respect that. He's coming into his own, he set his self apart and what he did, he set records. We're similar but we're different."

 Draughn gave Johnson high marks for his first real practice since Aug. 1.

"Like I said, I love to see him out there making people miss,'' he said. "He's just so smooth with this routes and so quick. I just like to see him play."

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Duke Johnson returns to practice

Browns running back Duke Johnson returned to practice this weekend after missing two weeks with a hamstring injury. The team was extra cautious with his and still is. Nonetheless, he's nearing a full return, even if head coach Mike Pettine insists they're going to ease him back. "(Johnson) was just jogging around," Pettine said. "We'll take it easy with him."

The sky is the limit for the Miami Hurricane's all-time leading rusher. His upside is Jamaal Charles. Johnson has big-play ability, natural pass-catching abilities and is better between the tackles than he gets credit for. He's currently being drafted as the RB40. There is no doubt that he has the ability to outperform his ADP. He just needs to stay healthy and earn his playing time.

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Duke Johnson won't play in Thursday's preseason opener

Browns rookie runningback Duke Johnson will not play in Thursday's preseason opener against Washington, coach Mike Pettine said on Sunday, per the Medina Gazette.

Johnson, Cleveland's third round draft pick in 2015, has been sidelined with a hamstring injury.

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Browns RB coach high on 'Duke,' disturbed by injuries

On Pro Football Hall of Fame weekend, Duke Johnson’s position coach shared a slice of Canton from the rookie runner’s résumé.

“In my scouting report,” said Wilbert Montgomery, a former All-Pro who is in charge of the Browns’ running backs, “I wrote up Duke as a Thurman Thomas type.”

That’s a mouthful. En route to the Hall of Fame’s Class of 2007, Thomas produced 12,074 rushing yards, 4,458 rushing yards and 79 touchdowns. He helped the Bills reach four Super Bowls.

The trouble for Thomas was that Buffalo lost all four Super Bowls. The problem with Johnson is that he has been out since Aug. 1 with a hamstring injury and still isn’t back, and he is ruled out of Thursday’s preseason opener against Washington.

Still, the Browns are leaving the door wide open for “The Duke” — a rookie Round 3 pick out of Miami (Florida) — to move past 2014 contributors Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell.

And forget about the Browns being all about “running back by committee.”

“I don’t want to get into it like we had to last year, rotating,” said Montgomery, who once racked up 1,906 rushing-receiving yards and 14 TDs in a season with the Eagles. “I want one guy to be able to say, ‘Hey, we know who the starter is.’

“These next few weeks, I want to see if somebody’s willing to pick up the flag.”

Before that happens, Johnson must be able to pull on his pads. Montgomery thinks that might be soon and is anxious for it to happen.

“Duke showed so much (in the spring), all of the things we wanted him to do,” Montgomery said. “He’s going to be OK because of the things he’s done already.”

Buffalo’s Thomas played at a shade under 5-foot-10 and a bit over 205 pounds. The Browns list Johnson at 5-9, 210. Like Thomas, they see him as a big threat running or catching. He could be an ideal fit for new coordinator John DeFilippo.

“Duke gives you a dimension you didn’t have in the group we had last year,” Montgomery said. “He can be a slot receiver. He can line up wide and move all over the field. He’s a total mismatch.

“Plus, he played in this system before. Last year was the first time for West and Crowell in the system. Duke’s been in it all three years in college.”

Johnson became Miami’s all-time rushing leader with 3,519 yards (6.7 per carry). He caught 69 passes. 

Shaun Draughn, who is a relative unknown but is going on 28 and is in his fifth season of knocking around the NFL, has been a big help to the young backs. Montgomery said Draughn has quickly become “a big-time mentor to Duke.”

Montgomery is hardly writing off West and Crowell, saying the competition is “a close race.” Yet, he laments the wave of injuries that has cost West, Johnson and Glenn Winston practice time.

“The disappointing thing was all those guys not being in tip, tip, tip-top shape,” Montgomery said. “That was a total setback.”

Draughn was exempt from that comment. He was having a strong camp before banging a thumb on a helmet, and he spent Sunday in a temporary cast.

Montgomery’s overriding point is that his young backs, as a lot, need to toughen up.

“If they want to make money, get to that next contract, they have to be thinking, ‘I have to show something.’ Right now, I think the importance of that is missing,” Montgomery said. “You’ve got to play injured, you’ve got to play sore, you’ve got to play banged up.

“If you can’t deal with those things, you really can’t play.”

Crowell became last year’s fan favorite. He spent some of the season behind West, who came off as immature.

Crowell has dodged injuries thus far. Coaches haven’t forgotten that West opened 2014 with a 100-yard game at Pittsburgh and closed it with a 94-yard game at Baltimore.

“Terrance has done everything we asked him to do up to this point,” Montgomery said. “I’m proud of where he’s at right now.”

Yet, as Montgomery noted, Johnson adds a dimension. The coaches definitely think he can play.

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Duke Johnson will likely sit out scrimmage at Ohio State

In addition, the running back corp has been hit hard over the past five days, with the loss of Duke Johnson (hamstring), Terrance West (calf), rookie Luke Lundy (concussion) and fullback Malcolm Johnson (shoulder). Glenn Winston is also idle with a knee injury and will likely sit out the scrimmage. 

Start of Brightcove Player

Pettine expressed frustration Tuesday over the loss of Johnson, his valuable rookie back, during "this formative time of camp.''

The backfield is so decimated that two defensive players, lineman Dylan Wynn and linebacker Scott Solomon, served as fullbacks Wednesday in goal-line drills.

"I know it's a part of camp, but (nagging injuries are) something we try to prevent,'' said Pettine. "We really stress being proactive with it, getting the sleep the hydration, the nutrition. We evaluate how we do things all the time. When that number starts to get above what the norms are, then that's an area for concern and that's something as an organization that we're looking to address.

"Also, a lot of it comes down to the player, as well, just making sure that they're doing the right things. It is a source of frustration when you have limited (players) and when it starts to pile up at a position, and now, you have a ripple effect... sometimes the consequences of it are frustrating."

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Mike Pettine on Duke Johnson's hamstring: 'He'll have a lot of catch up work to do'

BEREA, Ohio -- Browns coach Mike Pettine lamented the loss of rookie running back Duke Johnson to a pulled hamstring for awhile.

The Browns' third-round pick, Johnson pulled the hamstring Saturday in practice and will be sidelined for an unspecified length of time. But any amount of missed work is too much for a rookie in training camp.

"It's just disappointing that a guy that we're counting on to be a big part of what we do, to lose him at this formative time of what we're getting done, that's tough,'' said Pettine. "He'll have a lot of catch up work to do. We're making sure he gets all of those reps mentally. But there's no substitute for actual live reps."

Johnson also had a strained right hamstring during the NFL combine in February, which prevented him from lifting or running shuttles. He ran the 40, but in a disappointing 4.54. He recovered on his pro day, clocking back-to-back 4.47s.

In addition to Johnson, the following backs are also sidelined: Terrance West (calf), Glenn Winston (knee), and Luke Lundy (concussion). In addition, fullback Malcolm Johnson left Tuesday's practice with a shoulder injury and did not return.   

It's hard when the lineup is constantly being churned like the way it is. You want to be able to settle in at some point during camp. That's important because those guys are all young, they need their reps. When they're not out there that is a source of frustration.''

To make up for the injuries, the Browns signed reserve backs Timothy Flanders and Jalen Parmele, who both received plenty of reps Tuesday.

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Duke Johnson could be out awhile with hamstring

Browns rookie running back Duke Johnson, who figures prominently in the offense this season, could be out awhile with the pulled hamstring he suffered Saturday in practice, coach Mike Pettine said.

The unfortunate thing with Johnson is that he's had hamstring injuries before, and they often linger or recur. He had nagging hamstring issues as a freshman at Miami and they were at least a small factor in him wanting to quit football. He also opted not to lift or run shuttles at the NFL combine in February because of a strained right hamstring.

"I'll be all right,'' Johnson said Saturday after practice. "I've experienced much worse.''

Miami's all-time leading rusher, Johnson suffered a season-ending broken ankle in 2013, but didn't miss many other games because of injuries. Still, Johnson will have to take his time with the hamstring to make sure he's ready for the season.

Fortunately for the Browns, Draughn has been impressive both running the ball and catching it out of the backfield, and can serve the third-down back role that Johnson excels at.

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Duke Johnson running with 3rd-team offense, nursing injury

Rookie Duke Johnson was running with the Browns' third-team offense before tweaking his hamstring in Saturday's training camp practice.

He's been behind Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West. "I'll be alright," Johnson said after the injury. "I've experienced much worse. I just felt something in my hamstring, stopped for precautionary reasons. We're going to take a look at it today." The Browns don't seem concerned, but Johnson needs to get back on the practice field to make up ground on the depth chart.

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Browns don't envision Duke Johnson as starter

Beat writer Nate Ulrich says the Browns would like Johnson "to eventually develop into the (lead-back) role," but he won't open the season as Cleveland's first-team back. (Akron Beacon Journal)

Fantasy Impact: While Johnson may not be a starter this year there will still be plenty of opportunity for him to see the field due to his receiving skills. The team has repeatedly likened Johnson to Giovani Bernard, who had 226 touches as a rookie in 2013. Duke Johnson remains valuable in late rounds of ppr leagues.

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proCane rookies got their Madden ratings, and they're mad

2. Tevin Coleman, Falcons RB: 90. Solid paper tear.
3. Duke Johnson, Browns RB: 87. Paper crumple < paper tear.
4. Marcus Mariota, Titans QB: 84. Isn't he supposed to be non-emotional?
5. Philip Dorsett, Colts CB: 82. Incredulous laughter is always good.
6. T.J. Yeldon, Jaguars RB: 81: "Lord have mercy."
7. Devin Smith, Jets WR: 79. Very befuddled.
8. Jameis Winston, Bucs QB: 74. His initial body language would've put him higher, had he stayed the course. Too much eventual acceptance, though.
9. Amari Cooper, Raiders WR: 72. Businesslike.
10. Melvin Gordon, Chargers RB: 67. This is where the quality starts drops. "I feel it," is barely mad at all.
11. Todd Gurley, Rams RB: 55. Gurley takes an even bigger step down. He thinks his rating is pretty good!
12. Devin Funchess, Panthers WR: 47. The first legitimately happy dude on the list.
13. Kevin White, Bears WR: 46. The dance/double "check it out" combo puts him in the basement.

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Duke Johnson almost quit football, but armed himself with a reason to be great

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Duke Johnson lifts up his left t-shirt sleeve to reveal a bulging shoulder completely enveloped by the smiling face of his mother, Cassandra Mitchell.

"She's the reason I'm playing football,'' Johnson, the Browns rookie running back, told Northeast Ohio Media Group last month while pointing to his tattoo. "It's all for her.''

If not for Mitchell, who sometimes worked three jobs to provide for her family, the Browns' third-round pick may very well have quit football a couple of years ago.

It was the summer before his sophomore year at the University of Miami, and Johnson felt like giving up. Never mind that he was coming off the greatest freshman season in the history of the U, rushing for a first-year record of 947 yards and 10 touchdowns and setting a single season school mark with 892 kickoff returns and two TDs.

The Miami native (5-9, 206) was struggling with the demands of college life -- the homework, the practice, the social pressures, the football expectations, the creaky ankles and temperamental hamstrings -- and he thought about quitting the team. What's more his dad, Randy Johnson Sr., had died of Lou Gehrig's disease or ALS, four years earlier when Johnson was 14, and the sadness still sometimes engulfed him.

 When Randy Sr. was in the hospital dying from the neurodegenerative disease that can rob a person of the ability to speak, breath, eat or move, Johnson didn't want to see him that way. But his mother insisted.

"He supported me in everything that I do,'' Johnson, who's given name is Randy Jr., told espn.com when he was a senior at Miami's Norland High School. "He used to come to all of my games. He would take me to all of the University of Miami games, also."

But it was the memory of his mother working those three or more jobs -- as a corrections officer in Miami for more than two decades, as a waitress, as a school-board aide and as a seasonal employee at a toy store -- that kept Johnson going that summer. During their bleakest hours growing up, Johnson, his older sister Ranisha and their mom were sometimes forced to sleep in Mitchell's car. Other times, when Mitchell worked the overnight shift, Johnson and Ranisha stayed with their grandmother, Martha Williams.

How could Johnson give up when Mitchell never did?

"I'm knocking on the door (of the NFL) and wanting to quit and I didn't think that was fair to her,'' he told NEOMG.

Instead, Johnson decided to wear his heart on his sleeve -- or just underneath it. He called his mom and asked her to send a photo, claiming he had plenty of everyone but her. When the first batch wasn't quite right, he called back and asked specifically for a headshot. She happily obliged, not realizing what an indelible impression she was making at the time.

Mitchell never gave the request another thought, until Johnson came home a few days later, on the Fourth of July, with an almost life-sized replica of Mitchell emblazoned on his left shoulder.

"I teased him, 'at least you could've given me a nose job,''' she told the Detroit Free Press in February.

The tattoo served as a daily reminder to Johnson of why he was lifting weights until his arms went limp, why he took a pounding from defenders almost twice his weight and why he muscled and churned his way to the top of Hurricanes record book in career rushing yards with 3,519 in only three seasons.

 "I thought about all of the things my mom sacrificed growing up for me to get there,'' he said. "So anytime I'm in any kind of doubt with myself or whatever, I just look at the tattoo and it just kind of reminds me of what's the big picture.''

Besides, as Johnson journeyed through his career at the U and on to the NFL, he came to the unfortunate realization that he wasn't the only one who ever slept in a car or watched his father die when he was young. In fact, all he had to do was look to his left or right in the Browns running back room to find hardship and adversity. Isaiah Crowell was kicked out of Georgia after a felony weapons charge and forced to finish at Alabama State. Glenn Winston was kicked out of Michigan State and spent six months in jail after seriously injuring a hockey player in an assault. And so on.

"I don't really talk about it much because at this level, I look around the guys that are with me, and everybody's got similar stories,'' Johnson said. "Everybody's got the same story. Everybody has something they have to overcome and I don't do well with people feeling sorry for me.

"I just look at it like this is a story of never giving up because we have guys who have been through worse stuff than me and worse situations than I have and they're still here and we're not making excuses.''

And even though Johnson, the smallest of the Browns backs, poses a significant threat to the playing time of Crowell and Terrance West, they've welcomed Johnson with open arms in the running back room.

"I find it funny because Isaiah and Terrance West were in my position last year and they don't have to do it, but they're helping me out and have taken me under their wing,'' said Johnson. "It says a lot because they just got in the league and they haven't really made a name for themselves with what they're trying to do, and yet, they're still willing to bring a rookie in -- a couple of rookies in -- and teach them the right way.

"You also have Glenn and Shaun (Draughn) who also are in the same situation and they're teaching us the ropes. It's all love in the running back room and we're just enjoying it.''

The brotherhood reminds him of the strong bond he has with the decorated running backs that came before him at Miami, guys like multiple NFL Pro Bowlers Ottis Anderson, Willis McGahee, Frank Gore, Edgerrin James and Clinton Portis. Three of them were offensive rookie of the year, and one, Anderson, was a Super Bowl MVP.

"I get something from all of them,'' he said. "All have different stories, different situations. I've talked with Edgerrin and Willis and they just told me to take care of my body to be healthy and being able to take coaching and to be on time. I have Mike James from Tampa Bay. ...he just told me that special teams may be the way. Lamar Miller in Miami, he rushed for 1,000 yards last year and he was just saying 'play football, 'don't make it hard, just be in your playbook.'''

In an open letter to NFL general managers and coaches before the draft, Johnson promised to carry the enormous 'Canes torch.

"I believe that I'm the next great running back to come out of Miami,'' he wrote. "Yes, I fully understand how big the footsteps I'm following in are. Running backs that come through The U realized what it took to play there. It's no coincidence that they've been successful at the next level. Guys like Clinton Portis, Edgerrin James and Frank Gore laid out a blueprint for how to handle business. When you're a running back at Miami, making it to the NFL is an expectation rather than a goal. I have a legacy to live up to.''

Given the all-star lineup of predecessors, Johnson still can't believe he's the answer to the Miami trivia question of who holds the rushing title there.

"Yeah, from the outside looking in, I probably wouldn't guess me, either," Johnson said at minicamp. "Just because what those guys were able to do as far as wins, and I guess the way they were able to do it, that's why those names will always be at the top of my list."

Despite eclipsing Anderson for the 'Canes rushing crown, Johnson doesn't dare mention himself in the same breath with his famous Miami alum.

"Just for the record, in my book I'm not at the top," he said. "I'll probably be fifth, sixth. I'll probably be toward the middle bottom. I won't be one. I still haven't done anything close to what those guys were able to do, as far as winning."

The sixth running back selected in the 2015 draft, Johnson fancies himself a LeSean McCoy, the three-time Pro Bowler from the Eagles and now the Bills -- another quick, shifty back who can make people miss in the open field and also be a threat in the passing game. In addition to bringing the heat on offense, Johnson promises to be a force on kickoff returns.

"It just brings more competitiveness to the room,'' said Browns running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery. "He's a guy that played outside. The best way I can describe Duke is what Thurman Thomas was for Buffalo. It's going to be all over the field. It's a 'Where's Waldo?' He gives you another dimension. He creates one-on-one problems. We hope he can be a little bit like the kid, Giovani Bernard, in Cincinnati.''

In the early going, Johnson, who displayed fine hands and explosiveness in offseason practices, might be used mostly on third down. But the opportunity is there for him to stake his claim to the marquee role.

"It's hard to have an every-down back in this league,'' Montgomery said. "There's too much punishment going on out there on the field. We've got to carve out a role for Duke. It wouldn't be fair [when] we have never put the pads on yet to say, 'He's our starter.' We don't know how he's going to recover from practice to practice yet.

"So with Duke, we've just got to find a way how we're going to utilize him. Like Le'Veon Bell, his first year, he wasn't the guy, but you kind of like working him into being the guy. Duke, I'm not saying he's not going to be the guy. But I don't know the workload he can handle right now."

Johnson is ready to shoulder whatever the Browns have in store for him, and he's got the perfect shoulder for the job.

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Duke Johnson getting work at WR, KR

The Browns are looking to develop running back Duke Johnson into more than just a running back. Johnson is competing to be the team's kick returner and is learning how to return punts, according to special teams coordinator Chris Tabor.

Along with his special teams work, Johnson has also been getting playing time at wide receiver and offensive coordinator John DeFilippo said the plan is to use Johnson as a running back and receiver moving forward, reports the Akron Beacon Journal.

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Duke Johnson has a contract

There was no announcement of a contract agreement between the Browns and running back Duke Johnson before the start of the team’s minicamp on Tuesday, but Johnson was taking part in practice which seemed to indicate that such an announcement wasn’t far off.

And it wasn’t. The Browns announced a four-year deal with Johnson on Tuesday evening, which means that the team has signed all 12 of their draft picks.

Johnson became the all-time leading rusher in the history of the University of Miami before the Browns made him a third-round pick in May. He joins Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West in the Cleveland backfield and could wind up on the top of the depth chart if he makes good on comparisons that running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery threw out for the rookie.

“The best way I can describe Duke is what Thurman Thomas was for Buffalo,” Montgomery said. “It’s going to be all over the field. It’s a ‘Where’s Waldo?’ He gives you another dimension. He creates one-on-one problems. We hope he can be a little bit like the kid, [Giovani] Bernard, in Cincinnati. If he can do that for us, that gives us a different perspective on how we approach the field and gives us a chance to move people around and taking advantage of a mismatch.”

Johnson and the Browns wrap up minicamp over the next two days and then will reconvene for training camp next month.

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Could Duke Johnson become the top dawg in Cleveland?

If Browns running back coach Wilbert Montgomery's analysis is correct, it might not be long before Duke Johnson is seeing significant action in Cleveland.

Montgomery mentioned Johnson in the same breath as Hall of Fame Bills running back Thurman Thomas and Cincinnati's Giovani Bernard when discussing Johnson's potential.

Montgomery isn't penciling Johnson into the starting lineup just yet, but he sees Cleveland's third-round pick becoming a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses.

"The best way I can describe Duke is what Thurman Thomas was for Buffalo," Montgomery said last week via the Akron-Beacon Journal. "It's going to be all over the field. It's a 'Where's Waldo?' He gives you another dimension. He creates one-on-one problems. We hope he can be a little bit like the kid, Bernard, in Cincinnati. If he can do that for us, that gives us a different perspective on how we approach the field and gives us a chance to move people around and taking advantage of a mismatch."

Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell might have something to say about Johnson's playing time. Last year's Baby Backs battled with Ben Tate for playing time, leading to Tate's premature exit from Cleveland after eight games. 

Johnson will also have to prove that he can handle a heavy workload. His draft stock declined some amid concerns over his 5-foot-9, 207-pound frame and his 242 carries for Miami last season marked the first time he rushed the ball more than 150 times. Nevertheless, he still became the Hurricanes' all-time leading rusher with 1,652 yards his final season -- ahead of Frank Gore, Clinton Portis, Edgerrin James, and Willis McGahee.

"It’s hard to have an every-down back in this league," Montgomery added. "There’s too much punishment going on out there on the field. We’ve got to carve out a role for Duke. It wouldn’t be fair [when] we have never put the pads on yet to say, ‘He’s our starter.’ We don’t know how he’s going to recover from practice to practice yet. It’s totally different from college to here. He wasn't utilized that way at Miami a lot."

Head coach Mike Pettine and left tackle Joe Thomas raved about Johnson during the second week of OTAs. Adam Caplan of ESPN also walked away impressed and thinks West and Crowell have something to worry about in terms of playing time. 

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RBs coach wants to use Duke Johnson to play ‘Where’s Waldo?’ with defenses

BEREA: Browns running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery isn’t counting on Duke Johnson to become a starter as a rookie, but he does envision a significant role for the University of Miami’s all-time leading rusher this season.

Montgomery is intrigued by Johnson’s versatility and prowess as a receiving threat. Those attributes have led Montgomery to compare Johnson to players from the past — Buffalo Bills Hall of Famer Thurman Thomas — and present — Cincinnati Bengals standout Giovani Bernard.

“The best way I can describe Duke is what Thurman Thomas was for Buffalo,” Montgomery said Thursday after practice. “It’s going to be all over the field. It’s a ‘Where’s Waldo?’ He gives you another dimension. He creates one-on-one problems. We hope he can be a little bit like the kid, Bernard, in Cincinnati. If he can do that for us, that gives us a different perspective on how we approach the field and gives us a chance to move people around and taking advantage of a mismatch.”
So the Browns plan to move Johnson around in their offense and use him in several ways.

Making him an every-down back, though, isn’t on the agenda. Especially not with promising second-year running backs Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West on the roster.

“It’s hard to have an every-down back in this league,” Montgomery said. “There’s too much punishment going on out there on the field. We’ve got to carve out a role for Duke. It wouldn’t be fair [when] we have never put the pads on yet to say, ‘He’s our starter.’ We don’t know how he’s going to recover from practice to practice yet. It’s totally different from college to here. He wasn’t utilized that way at Miami a lot.

“So with Duke, we’ve just got to find a way how we’re going to utilize him. Like Le’Veon Bell, his first year [with the Pittsburgh Steelers], he wasn’t the guy, but you kind of like working him into being the guy. Duke, I’m not saying he’s not going to be the guy. But I don’t know the workload he can handle right now.”

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Running the ball, and catching it out of the backfield, makes rookie Duke Johnson a potential impact player for the Browns

The running game will be more diverse, dependable, and capable of big plays.

This assumes the natural maturation of second-year backs Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West, and an immediate breakout season from rookie third-round pick Duke Johnson.

The Duke: While the revamped passing game of new coordinator John DeFilippo has been less than scintillating in OTA sessions open to media scrutiny, the running game has been a source of optimism.

Part of that optimism is due to the fact that there is no hitting at this early time of the new season, which allows almost every running play to work just as it’s been drawn up in the playbook, without stops and fumbles.

Also, the multi-faceted skill set of Johnson, the third-round pick from University of Miami, has been evident.

After a particularly good day in OTAs last week, coach Mike Pettine said of Johnson, “I think we’ve all seen what he can bring – the explosiveness and how we can turn a handoff or a short pass into a significant gain with a back like that.”

At the organization’s first tub-thumping Fan Fest last weekend, Farmer said Johnson has “playmaking ability and supreme confidence. I think he is going to be tremendous for us.”

Besides a proven record as a plant foot-and-go runner at Miami, Johnson brings the ability to run a route, catch a pass and turn it upfield. Neither Crowell nor West did that last year. Throwing to the backs has been a recognizable addition to the offense in OTAs.

“I definitely do think it creates an opportunity (for me),” Johnson said last week. “I think that’s why they brought me in. I’m kind of a change-of-pace back that can kind of line up anywhere and run things that maybe most running backs can’t. I’m looking forward to seeing just the different ways we use me on offense. If it’s from receiver, routes out of the backfield … whatever it takes, I’m all in.”

The trivia answer: One thing I like about Johnson is his humble take on his place in The U’s totem pole of outstanding running backs.

Johnson’s 3,519 rushing yards are the most in the glorious running back history of the Hurricanes.

This is a college program that has produced noteworthy backs such as Chuck Foreman, Ottis Anderson, Melvin Bratton, Alonzo Highsmith, Edgerrin James, Willis McGahee, Clinton Portis, Stephen McGuire, James Jackson, Lamar Miller and Frank Gore. And Johnson out-produced them in essentially 2 ½ seasons because he left early and one of his seasons was shortened by a broken ankle.

When I mentioned to Johnson that he could stump trivia buffs with his place at the top of UM’s rushing annals, he didn’t disagree. He also struck the right tones about his Miami career.

“Yeah, from the outside looking in, I probably wouldn’t guess me, either,” Johnson said. “Just because what those guys were able to do as far as wins, and I guess the way they were able to do it, that’s why those names will always be at the top of my list.”

Asked whom he puts on the top of his list, Johnson wouldn’t name his favorite.

“Just for the record, in my book I’m not at the top,” Johnson said. “I’ll probably be fifth, sixth. I’ll probably be toward the middle bottom. I won’t be one.

“I still haven’t done anything close to what those guys were able to do, as far as winning.”

It’s good to hear a Browns running back be humble and realistic. They just may have found their most impactful new player on offense. Then again, we can’t say for sure until we see Johnson absorb a hit, break or miss real tackles, and catch a pass with a linebacker storming in on him.

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Browns talk up Duke Johnson

Speaking at Browns Fan Fest on Saturday, GM Ray Farmer praised third-round pick Duke Johnson's "playmaking ability and supreme confidence."

"I think he's going to be tremendous for us," added Farmer. The 77th overall pick, Johnson was a dynamic all-purpose back at Miami, and offers a more versatile repertoire than projected starter Isaiah Crowell. Johnson will be an intriguing late-round target for owners planning to use the "Zero RB" strategy in 2015.

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Duke Johnson looking explosive at Browns OTAs

Joe Thomas loves what he sees from rookie running back Duke Johnson so far. 

The Browns' third-round pick out of Miami is showing patience and burst that already has Thomas thinking more explosion will be seen from an offense that ranked 23rd in the NFL last season.

"He read his blocks perfectly, he saw the seam, he was patient," Thomas said of Johnson, per the team's official site. "That’s what you need as a running back. I hope we see that as the season goes on. I think you are going to see a more explosive offense this year."

Head coach Mike Pettine remembers one run during Tuesday's practice in particular. 

"(If) we weren’t playing flag football, that would have been a 40- or 50-yard chunk," Pettine said. "I think we’ve all seen what he can bring – the explosiveness and how we can turn a handoff or a short pass into a significant gain with a back like that.”

Johnson joins a young backfield headed by Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell, both coming off solid rookie campaigns. While last year's "Baby Backs" figure to get the lion's share of the carries, Johnson can be used as a weapon all over the field, including special teams.

"I'm a change-of-pace back. I can line up anywhere," Johnson said. "I'm looking forward to the different ways they use me as a receiver or the backfield. Whatever it takes. Punts, kicks. I think that's something we look forward to doing."

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Much to like about what RB Duke Johnson brings

BEREA, Ohio -- The list of talented running backs produced by the University of Miami seems endless.

It goes all the way back to Chuck Foreman and Ottis Anderson in the 1970s. It continued with Melvin Bratton and Alonzo Highsmith in the 80s. After that came Edgerrin James, Willis McGahee, Clinton Portis, Stephen McGuire, James Jackson, Lamar Miller and Frank Gore. It’s a list so long that one year ago NFL.com determined the University of Miami had earned the title “Running Back U.”

The guy who gained more yards than any of them is running around in Berea, practicing with the Cleveland Browns after being the team’s third-round draft pick. Duke Johnson's 3,519 rushing yards are the most in Hurricanes history.

That’s just one of many impressive numbers Johnson put up in his time at Miami.

As a freshman, he had 947 yards rushing, 221 receiving and he threw a touchdown pass and returned two kicks for touchdowns. He played just eight games his second season due to a broken ankle, but he still gained 920 yards rushing. In his final season, he ran for 1,652 yards and had 10 touchdowns.

Numbers have been his thing. He ran for 1,540 yards as a sophomore at Miami Norland high school. His senior year he had 1,957 yards rushing, with three kickoff returns and one punt return for touchdowns.

Oh, he also ran track.

But when it comes to ranking himself among the all-time UM backs, Johnson shrugs and admits that if there were a question on Trivial Pursuit asking who leads UM in all-time rushing, “I probably wouldn’t guess me either.”

“Just because of what those guys were able to do with wins,” he said.

Many of the Hurricanes' great backs played in an era of Miami greatness. After Howard Schnellengerger and Bernie Kosar won the national title after the 1983 season, Miami went on a streak of success that’s hard to grasp. From 1985-94, Miami never lost more than two games in a season. In six of those seasons, the Hurricanes finished first, second or third in the national rankings. The Hurricanes won five national titles between 1984-2001.

But in Johnson’s three seasons, Miami lost 16 games -- or as many as it lost in all of the seasons from 1985 through 1995.

When it was pointed out the record book showed Johnson at the top of the Miami running back list, Johnson asked what book that was. He nodded and credited the entire team for his yards, but added: “Just for the record, in my book I’m not at the top.”

Who would be?

“Now that one’s tough,” he said. “It’s a list, but I won’t be at the top. I’ll probably be fifth, sixth. I’ll probably be toward the middle bottom. I won’t be one.”

The reason?

“I still haven’t done anything close to what those guys were able to do, as far as winning,” Johnson said.

Johnson’s talent is evident in the numbers he’s produced as well as the fact that he brings elements that the Browns' offense lacks. Specifically speed, quickness, the ability to break a big play and the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield.

“I’m that kind of change-of-pace back that can line up anywhere and do things that most running backs can’t,” he said.

Johnson has his share of Hurricanes swagger. No Miami player lacks it. But he carries his with a healthy dose of reality. He accepts where he is in the UM hierarchy, and understands he's not higher because his teams lacked in the most important number.

That being said, he has looked good running and catching the ball for the Browns in OTAs. He’s worked on the kickoff return unit. And he said he’s also working on catching punts, and is willing to do it if asked.

“Whatever it takes,” Johnson said. “I’m all-in.”

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Duke Johnson practices Monday after missing OTAs last week

Browns rookie running back Duke Johnson reported to team headquarters Monday for organized team activities and practiced after missing OTAs last week.
Nathan Zegura, the team’s senior media broadcaster, revealed the news on the organization’s radio show, Cleveland Browns Daily.

Practice was closed to the media Monday, but it’ll be open to reporters Tuesday.

Of the 12 players the Browns recently selected in the NFL Draft, Johnson is the only one who has yet to sign his rookie contract. However, his absence last week at OTAs, which are voluntary, wasn’t related to his contract.

Johnson, a third-round pick, dealt with a family matter in Washington, D.C., his agent, Alex Gavilla, told Cleveland.com last week. Then he attended the NFL Players Association Rookie Premiere in Los Angeles.

Johnson, the University of Miami’s all-time leading rusher, is expected to compete with second-year running backs Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West for a prominent role in new offensive coordinator John DeFilippo’s system. Special teams coordinator Chris Tabor wants to give Johnson plenty of opportunities as a kickoff returner and is teaching him the intricacies of returning punts as well.

“I think going to the Browns, other than the weather, is a great situation,” Johnson said Friday during a video interview with 120Sports.com. “Coming from Miami to Cleveland is kind of big difference in some aspects, but I think me coming to the team, I can help out anyway I can from special teams, kick return, punt return, running back, you know, whatever it takes to help the team win.”

The 5-foot-11, 225-pound Crowell (148 carries, 607 yards, 4.1 average, eight rushing touchdowns) and the 5-10, 227-pound West (171 carries, 673 yards, 3.9 average, four rushing touchdowns) showed promise, at times, as rookies. But the 5-9, 210-pound Johnson is considered a different type of back who can help the offense as a formidable receiving threat, especially on third down.

The Browns finished last season with the fewest receptions (32) and receiving yards (226) among running backs in the NFL, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. DeFilippo has said he wants to use the backs as receivers more often.

“I think that’s one of the reasons the Browns did decide to draft me was because they needed that element in their offense,” Johnson told 120Sports.com. “I think they watched the Super Bowl just like we all did and saw what [running back Shane] Vereen was able to do to help the [New England] Patriots win. And that’s something they’re trying to implement in their offense.”

Vereen, who signed with the New York Giants this offseason, had 52 catches for 447 yards and three touchdowns this past regular season. He added 18 catches for 144 yards in the playoffs, including 11 receptions for 64 yards in the Patriots’ 28-24 Super Bowl win over the Seattle Seahawks.

Johnson wasn’t the only rookie who practiced for the first time since OTAs began.

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Absence of Browns RB Duke Johnson due to family issue

Browns running back and unsigned third-round pick Duke Johnson did not miss voluntary OTAs this week because of any contract squabble, the Northeast Ohio Media Group is reporting. Rather, he was sidelined due to a family matter.

"We did not instruct him to miss OTAs," said agent Alex Gavilla. "We're not trying to take an aggressive negotiating strategy. Duke is very close to his family and he had a personal matter to attend to. He has no plans of holding out of anything."

Johnson, who will compete with Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell for playing time, is the only one of 12 Browns draft picks to remain unsigned. But the two sides are close.

"We're looking at all of the deals that relate to Duke and just trying to find a middle ground with the team," Gavilla said. "We're in constant communication with the Browns front office and having good dialogue."

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Could Duke Johnson be the Browns best draft choice?

Will he be the next Clinton Portis or the next James Jackson?

Of the 12 players the Browns recently drafted, could running back Duke Johnson turn out to be the most productive of all the draft picks?

In just three seasons at Miami (Fla.) Johnson accounted for 5,526 all-purpose yards. His 3,519 rushing yards is the most of any former Hurricane running backs, eclipsing Ottis Anderson's all-time record. The Hurricane's list of former NFL running backs is a who's who listed of backs including the likes of Anderson, Portis, Frank Gore, Willis McGahee, Alonzo Highsmith, Lamar Miller and Edgerrin James.

"I'm surprised," Johnson said after the Browns recent rookie minicamp. "I never had the idea of going to college and leaving the all-time leading rusher. My goals were the same as they are now and that is to win, but I think it is a great accomplishment knowing the guys that came before me.

"I felt it was a good accomplishment," he said. "It is something and a legacy I can leave at the University of Miami. Hopefully, I can take that same mindset and same attitude to the next level."

Johnson said it really hasn't set in for him what he's accomplished.

"I'm still waiting because it really hasn't hit me yet," Johnson said. "I don't know what it's going to take, but it really hasn't hit me yet."

Johnson hopes to have the same type of success that the others have.

"I'm really hoping, especially with the majority of those guys going to the next level and having the careers they did," he said. "I'm really hoping that I can have the type of careers those guys had."

Johnson said he's talked with the former 'Canes who've gone to the NFL before him and they've offered some tips to him.

"I've talked with Edgerrin and Willis and they just told me to take care of my body to be healthy and being able to take coaching and to be on time."

Johnson isn't satisfied with what he's accomplished so far and is ready to start contributing with the Browns.

"I think I can show what I can do out of the backfield," Johnson said. "I think that's something we're trying to do in the offense and that is utilizing me in the passing game. Putting me out wide, giving (the defense) different looks and getting the ball in different ways besides running it and returning it."

Jackson was a third-round draft choice of the Browns in 2001 (65th overall), who followed Butch Davis from Miami to the Browns, but didn't materialize at the NFL level. He is still fourth on the all-time Hurricanes rushing list, but had his best year as a rookie with the Browns with just 554 yards and two touchdowns.

Similar to Jackson, Johnson is smaller in stature and likely wasn't drafted until the third-round because of his size (5-9, 206). Despite his height, Ray Farmer said Johnson is "not small". Johnson is confident he will be able to be successful at the NFL level.

"I never doubt my skills," he said. "This is something that I've worked hard on since I was a kid to master my craft as we like to say it.

"I never would get to the ultimate level doubting myself," he said. "I'm a little too far ahead in my life to start doubting myself now."

Johnson said he thinks he can carry the load at the NFL level.

"I'm going to do whatever they ask of me," he said "I'm a three-down back, third down do whatever I can to help this team win."

Johnson describes himself this way.

"I think I am unpredictable," he said. "I'm a one-cut kind of guy, hit a hole and see it. I can make things happen, very versatile out of the backfield. I can line up at receiver and create mismatches out of the backfield."

Johnson said although he has left the University of Miami, he carries "The U" attitude when he steps on the field.

"I bring the same attitude," he said. "There's a swagger."

If he can prove to be as successful as he was in college, Duke Johnson might prove to be one of the Browns best picks of this year's draft class.

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Duke Johnson's receiving a pleasant bonus for Browns

Duke Johnson’s 1,652 rushing yards jump out as one clear reason the Cleveland Browns used a third-round pick on him.

But don’t underestimate the 68 career receptions or the 38 catches Johnson had for the Miami Hurricanes in 2014, or the three receiving touchdowns.

Johnson’s receiving ability fills a great void for the Browns.

As well as Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West ran at times one year ago -- they combined for 1,280 yards and two touchdowns -- they never really filled a role as a receiver.

That could have been inexperience. It could have been Brian Hoyer looking more to the wideouts. It could have been that the emphasis on play-action took the backs out of the passing game.

The bottom line is the bottom line.

ESPN Stats and Information reports that Browns backs had a league-low 32 catches in 2014 for a league-low 226 yards. The backs also were targeted a league-low 36 times and scored a mere one receiving touchdown.

Backs are paid to run the ball, but Johnson’s strength is he brings skills that West and Crowell lack.

Dane Brugler of NFLDraftScout.com wrote that Johnson is a “natural pass-catcher with beautiful body control, soft hands and smooth routes, often splitting out wide as a receiver.”

Offensive coordinator John DeFilippo said the Browns have been lining up West, Crowell and Glenn Winston wide in some plays. No doubt Johnson will do the same.

Johnson’s quicks were evident in the rookie camp. But that’s what should happen.

Quickness should stand out in drills without contact and without aggressive play. But Johnson also showed the ability to make catches on the run, including over-the-shoulder and down the field.

“You should have seen the choice route he ran in the seven-on-seven,” offensive coordinator John DeFilippo said on Saturday. “It was fantastic.”

The temptation game with any small and quick back with good hands is to compare him to Darren Sproles. Sproles is 5-foot-6 and cat quick, and he’s averaged 60 catches the last seven season.

Johnson is not Sproles. But he has some of Sproles’ attributes, especially quickness. That is an attribute the others backs lack.

The thought of the Browns using Johnson in certain mismatches and in certain formations to take advantage of his skills -- and speed -- has to be appealing to the offensive staff.

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'The Duke' soon might be king of Browns backfield

Duke Johnson forgot himself for a moment.

As the temperature at rookie minicamp reached about 212 degrees, he chopped through a drill in which running backs step through a stringed contraption while carrying a football weighted like a medicine ball.

Coach Wilbert Montgomery told his backs to take a water break. When Johnson dropped his ball and stepped toward refreshment, Montgomery barked, “Don’t drop the ball, Duke! Never put the ball on the ground!”

The coach was grinning, but serious.

“The football is your girlfriend,” he told Johnson. “It could be your wife. You’re marrying your work.”

Johnson immediately picked up the ball, which is the official ball of the NFL, a Wilson. The particular make, stamped right on the ball, is “The Duke.”

When the final running back depth chart of the preseason is stamped out, there is a good chance Duke Johnson will be “The Man.”

Johnson is not a normal 77th overall draft pick.

He has a real chance to start right away, competing against 2014 rookies Terrance West, who was a No. 94 overall draft pick, and Isaiah Crowell, who was undrafted.

West and Crowell boast NFL experience that includes some bright moments from 2014. Their college experience, with West putting up big numbers at Towson and Crowell finishing at Alabama State (having been an SEC freshman of the year), doesn’t compare to Johnson’s.

Johnson was an 18-year-old freshman when he played his first college game and in three years became the Miami Hurricanes’ career rushing leader.

He already was full of confidence by the end of his freshman season, which produced one of his favorite games. Facing Virginia, he threw a halfback option pass for a touchdown and returned a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter. Sharing the running load with two backs who totaled 83 yards on 17 carries, Johnson squeezed 150 yards out of 16 carries. He also was used as a receiver.

“I thought I showed everything I can do in that game,” he said.

As a senior, his overall production (242 carries for 1,631 yards at 6.8 per carry; 38 catches for 421 yards) compared to that of Ohio State’s Ezekial Elliott (273 carries for 1,878 yards at 6.9 per carry; 28 catches for 220 yards).

One limitation is size, reflected in the fact his 10 rushing touchdowns in 2014 were the lowest total among BCS players who finished in the top 14 in rushing yards.
General manager Ray Farmer protests that the 5-foot-9 Johnson “isn’t small … he weighs 207 pounds.”

Still, he’s way lighter than Crowell and noticeably lighter than West.

“I’ve been competing against the big dogs since I was playing football,” Johnson said after a muggy practice. “I’ve never been the biggest. Sometimes I was the smallest. It never stopped me. I’m not gonna allow it to now.”

The backs drafted ahead of Johnson were Georgia’s Todd Gurley (6-1, 222), Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon (6-1, 215), Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon (6-1, 226), Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah (5-9, 205) and Indiana’s Trevin Coleman (5-11, 206).

Farmer calls Johnson “a dynamic player who can run, catch, return kicks and catch punts.

“He has a complete skill set. We love that he’s quick, agile and well balanced. He runs through trash. He can jump over guys on the ground, land and cut.

“He’s got some Giovanni Bernard to him … some Brian Westbrook.”

Bernard plays for the Bengals. Tom Heckert regards Westbrook as his best value pick during his days as the Eagles’ general manager. Westbrook was a No. 91 overall pick in 2002. On Philadelphia’s 2004 Super Bowl team, Westbrook averaged 4.6 yards on 177 rushes and 9.6 yards on 73 catches.

Head coach Mike Pettine talks as if the different looks presented by Johnson and Crowell all have a place.

“You want to be able to match up differently different weeks,” Pettine said. “Some weeks, it might be a good matchup for Terrance, others for Crow. And now Duke kind of gives us that added element.

“You don’t want to use the label ‘third-down back.’ ”

Bookmakers have an inkling Johnson might help the Browns right away.

Odds against him being NFL offensive rookie of the year aren’t terribly long, at 25-1. Marcus Mariota, to name one of the 13 players with shorter odds than Johnson, is 10-1.

The Browns have had ex-Hurricanes in their backfield before.

James Jackson was drafted 12 spots higher than Johnson, at No. 65 overall, in 2001. He didn’t work out. Willis McGahee was the emergency replacement after Trent Richardson was traded in 2013. He was too old.

Jackson and McGahee had past ties to their Browns head coaches, Butch Davis and Rob Chudzinski.

Johnson arrives fresh and agenda free, drafted simply because Browns scouts and coaches think he can inject serious juice into the offense.

The former Miami back with whom Johnson has had his most serious talks since the draft is Edgerrin James, a candidate for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
James’ advice to Johnson was very simple: “Take coaching. Be on time.”

Johnson soon will be going through the Browns’ spring program in competition with West and Crowell. He talked to West after the draft.

“I haven’t gotten any bad vibes from Terrance or anything,” Johnson said. “Just like me, he’s ready to compete and fight for the starting job. About me getting drafted, he said, ‘Congratulations. The offense just got better.’ ”

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Duke Johnson wants a ton on his plate during rookie season

Running back Duke Johnson showed the electricity he displayed at the University of Miami on his way to becoming the program’s all-time leading rusher early Friday during the Cleveland Browns’ rookie mini-camp.

On a flare pass from quarterback Connor Shaw, Johnson caught the spiral near the sideline, juked past two diving linebackers and bolted up the field for a significant gain. Coaches and offensive teammates were hooting and hollering as Johnson quietly went about his business.

These are the types of plays, and attitude, general manager Ray Farmer and the Browns coaching staff had in mind when they selected Johnson in the third round of the 2015 NFL draft.

“I want to give us another dimension on offense,” said Johnson, who was drenched in sweat after a sweltering May day in Cleveland. “It could help us out with mismatches, when need be. I think I came out here and showed what I can do, and I had fun with the guys.”

Johnson wants to do it all in Cleveland – return kicks and punts, carry the ball as much as possible and even split out wide as a receiver now and then. Listed at 5-foot-9 and 210 pounds, Johnson is slippery for would-be tacklers and, just as Farmer described him, he’s short, not small. 

For as much as he wants on his plate as a rookie, Johnson’s also keeping his list of rookie goals short. Just one word, actually.


“There’s no better feeling,” Johnson said. “That’s why we play the game. And if that means me playing special teams punt protector, I’m all for it.”

In order to bring a winning attitude, Johnson has sought out help. Coming from such an esteemed college football program like “The U,” the Miami native has his fair share of former Hurricanes mentoring him.

Johnson has worked out with former Browns running back Willis McGahee on the Coral Gables campus, and he’s been in touch with former All-Pro Redskins running back Clinton Portis, who tweeted Cleveland got a steal in Johnson shortly after he was picked.

But the most instrumental of Miami’s famed running backs has been retired Indianapolis Colt and four-time Pro Bowler Edgerrin James.

“He told me about taking care of my body, staying healthy,” Johnson said. “But mainly, being able to take coaching and being on time.

“The things that majority of those guys did after leaving college and going to the next level; I’m really hoping I can have a career like they did.”

Johnson has also been in touch with Browns second-year running back Terrance West, who reached out to him.

“Just like myself, he’s ready to compete and fight for the starting job,” Johnson said. “We understand at the end of the day, we all are just going to come in and make each other better.”

With Johnson already aboard and busting his tail in Cleveland, the Browns’ running backs room is now oozing with young talent.  

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Duke Johnson one of class' fastest players

Miami RB Duke Johnson "is one of the fastest players in this class, with elite burst to and through the hole," notes ESPN's Todd McShay.

"One of the most important qualities in a running back is the ability to create yards on your own, and Johnson can do that with his ability to make defenders miss in the hole and with his electrifying lateral agility," McShay wrote. "He can stop and start on a dime and can quickly change directions while working through multiple creases. Running plays don't always go the way you draw them up on the chalk board, so a lot of times you need to find the second crease, which is why Johnson's ability to change direction without losing momentum is so important." Johnson led draft-eligible backs from Power 5 conferences in percentage of rush attempts that gained 10 or more yards (18.7 percent) last year. "He is also an excellent pass-catcher, with his ability to quickly transition upfield after the catch and then make defenders miss in the open field," McShay wrote. Johnson is also a good kickoff returner.

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Duke Johnson rewrote history at Miami, plans to do the same in NFL

There's one area of Duke Johnson's game that the 5-foot-9, 207-pound speedster thinks is far more advanced than any other running back in this year's draft class.

"I would say that I catch better," the Miami product told FOXSports.com on Tuesday. "I create the biggest mismatch when I'm lined up as a receiver or if I'm running routes out of the backfield."

Johnson, who caught 38 balls for 421 yards and three touchdowns during his junior season, also showed versatility in the kick- and punt-return games during his sophomore season, averaging 33.1 yards a return while scoring two touchdowns.

But Johnson made his name by etching himself into Miami's record books. Topping illustrious names like Edgerrin James, Clinton Portis, Frank Gore and Willis McGahee, Johnson became the school's all-time leading rusher (3,519 yards) in an abbreviated two-and-a-half year career. Johnson missed six games during his sophomore season after he broke his ankle.

"Durability questions come down to my size," Johnson said. "People wonder if I'll be able to hold up against the bigger guys for 16 weeks plus playoffs. I broke my ankle once in college that required me to miss six games in my sophomore season. Outside of the broken ankle, I've never been hurt."

The size question isn't something that can easily be dismissed. Johnson, however, has proven that he has traits of being an every-down back. One of the most challenging aspects young running backs face in their first season in the league is picking up the blitz and pass protection.

"It's all about knowing where guys are coming from before they come," Johnson said. "That comes down to preparation and watching film. I want to know where guys are coming from before they do so it gives me an upper hand when we actually make contact."

During Johnson's media tour in Los Angeles, he told NFL Network studios and proclaimed that he could run the Cowboys' outside-zone scheme in his sleep.
On Tuesday, when asked what it'd be like to play with another local Miami product and Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, Johnson drew a big smile and said: "We'd make history.

"Teddy likes to check the ball down, so that would give me plenty of opportunity to do some damage."

No matter where Johnson lines up on Sundays, though, he's sure to be a game-changing factor. 

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Duke Johnson Lacks Height But Not Short On Production

Name: Duke Johnson
Position: Running Back
College: Miami, Fla.    
Height/Weight: 5-9 / 207

Honors:  A first-team All-ACC running back in 2014 with 1,652 rushing yards, Johnson also earned second-team All-ACC honors in 2013.
Key stat: With 3,519 rushing yards, Johnson became the Hurricanes’ all-time leading rusher in just three seasons. In 2014, Johnson had six straight 100-yard games including 249 vs. Virginia Tech.

Where He’s Projected: Johnson appears to be a solid second-round pick, with the outside shot of slipping to the third. If the Cowboys don’t draft a back in the first round, the former Hurricanes standout seems to be a good fit at No. 60. Johnson is firmly in the second tier of backs with Tevin Coleman, Jay Ajayi, T.J. Yeldon and Ameer Abdullah.

How He Helps the Cowboys: Johnson could slide right into the Cowboys’ offensive plan as an immediate contributor. While he might not beat out Darren McFadden for the starting job right away, Johnson would be talented enough to garner 8-10 carries right away, with the ability and potential to become the eventual starter. He’s got good vision and power and catch the ball out of the backfield, making him a candidate for a third-down back, but he’s got to convince the club he can handle the blitz pick-ups as a blocker.

Scout’s Take: Plays as a one back runner. Doesn’t have many opportunities where there is just a clear hole. Has the quickness and burst to cut back if hole not there. Can make men miss in the hole. Rare foot work with the ball in his hands. Start-Stop quickness is outstanding. Can make a cut and not lose speed. If nothing is there not afraid to run up the back of his blockers. Nice zone runner to make the cuts. Protects the ball in traffic. Can weave through the tacklers. Explodes off his plant foot. Can turn a negative play into a positive one. Just needs a little crack. Will sneak out of the backfield on the check down. Can turn the corner on the toss. Will bounce off tacklers. Balance. Wheel routes and screens. Catches the ball on the swing. Can adjust. Is a weapon in the open space. Didn’t make low adjust in flat. Cut block on the edge. Will come across the pocket to help. Size limits what he can do on pass blocking. Ideal scheme fit for the Cowboys in that he is accustom to running the type of plays where he takes the ball on the angle then explodes through the hole. Could easily see him going late in the second round on talent alone but his lack of height might scare some teams to look at other options for the position. Bryan Broaddus

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Detroit Lions 2015 NFL draft prospect: Duke Johnson

Leading up to the 2015 NFL draft, MLive.com writers Justin Rogers and Kyle Meinke will preview prospects who could be a fit for the Detroit Lions.

Name: Duke Johnson
Position: Running back
School: Miami
Height: 5-foot-9
Weight: 207 pounds
Projected round: Second-third
40-yard dash time: 4.54 seconds
Bench press reps: 18 reps

Key stats: Despite Miami's rich history of talented tailbacks, Duke Johnson finished as the school's all-time leading rusher in just three seasons.

Johnson racked up 3,519 yards on the ground, averaging an impressive 6.7 yards per carry, while adding another 719 yards as a receiver out of the backfield. Oh yeah, he also can return kicks. He didn't handle kickoffs in 2014, but the previous two seasons, he averaged 31.8 yards and scored a pair of touchdowns.
How he fits: Johnson is a well-rounded back who offers additional value as a potential special teams contributor. While on the short side at 5-foot-9, he has enough weight on his frame to absorb the physical toll of the professional game.

More quick than fast, Johnson is a player who is elusive in the open field and can change direction with ease. It makes him a weapon as both on the edge and as receiver out of the backfield.

Johnson is also able to maximize his skill set as a kick returner. He didn't handle punts for the Hurricanes, but was successful doing it in high school.

Quotable: "Johnson's greatest asset is his burst. He doesn't have an elite second gear, but he reaches his top-end speed quickly. He doesn't shake defenders with highlight-reel moves, but he has the agility to make the first defender miss and he's a run-after-catch threat in the passing game. He runs really hard, but doesn't have the power base to regularly push the pile (he's tougher to tackle in space, with an effective stiff arm). He rates very well in terms of intangibles, but his durability is a concern that NFL teams will have to monitor." -- Todd McShay, ESPN.com

"Impressive acceleration. Alternately displays burst, agility and light feet to high-step through tackles and an effective stiff-arm. Patient runner willing to stretch plays and then hit the hole hard. Shows the "greasy knees" to cut and accelerate in one fluid motion, eluding would-be tacklers. Despite small stature, fights hard for every yard and shows a highly competitive nature." -- Rob Rang, CBS Sports

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Draft Scout: Duke Johnson is no foundational back

Miami RB Duke Johnson "is an entertaining back who can explode in any direction at any time, sometimes a bit out of control and in haste," wrote NFLDraftScout.com's Frank Cooney.

"He can be a game-breaker with his talent or a back-breaker with his fumbles," Cooney wrote. "He is certainly worth a shot, but is not the guy to carry an NFL team on his back." Johnson has been compared to Chris Johnson in the past, but he's not quite the elite sprinter on the stop watch. Asked about his skills, Johnson replied: "Being able to receive out of the backfield is the No. 1 thing. I'm a mismatch with linebackers. I can catch the ball really well."

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Latest proCane Draft Buzz

It’s likely that Ereck Flowers will be the first Hurricanes player chosen in the NFL draft, which begins April 30.

It’s clear the Carolina Panthers, who own the 25th pick, really, really like him.

Flowers, the 6-foot-6, 324-pound offensive tackle who left UM after his junior season, fills an immediate need for the Panthers on the right side and could eventually move to the left side. He interviewed with Carolina at the NFL combine, visited the team and worked out for top brass. The team also sent several representatives to watch him at the Hurricanes’ April 1 pro day. The Charlotte Observer even flew their beat writer to do a profile on him (though as usual, Flowers didn’t talk).

If he’s available when Carolina picks, he’ll probably join Cam Newton and Kelvin Benjamin. But several analysts think he might not be.

In the slew of mock drafts we found online, Flowers is slotted as high as No. 9 overall. FoxSports.com’s Peter Schrager has him going at that spot, to the New York Giants.

Click here to read what Schrager, who has no other Hurricanes in his two-round mock, wrote about Flowers as well as the rest of the proCane potential draft picks by Matt Porter of the Palm Beach Post!

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Analysts: Duke Johnson is draft fit for Patriots

Yes, the New England Patriots just won their fourth Super Bowl. But that doesn't mean the Patriots don't have some holes to fill in the draft.

Perhaps the biggest hole is at cornerback, where the Pats lost Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, and NFL Media analyst Curtis Conway said Thursday on the NFL Network's "Path to the Draft" that LSU cornerback Jalen Collins makes sense for New England with the No. 32 overall pick.

Conway said he also likes Wake Forest cornerback Kevin Johnson but thinks Johnson will be gone at No. 32.

"Jalen Collins is a guy ... I think will be there," said Conway, who describes Collins (6-foot-1 1/2, 203 pounds) as "very physical."

Fellow analyst Daniel Jeremiah has Collins as his No. 29 overall player and calls him "a big-time playmaker."

Collins has excellent measurables, ran a 4.48 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine and has a high ceiling. But he remains a bit raw, as he started just 10 games in his LSU career.

The analysts also noted that the Patriots lost running back Shane Vereen, who was a weapon as a runner and a receiver, this offseason. Potential running back replacements mentioned for Vereen were Miami's Duke Johnson, Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah and Alabama's T.J. Yeldon.

Conway seemed especially high on Johnson, saying "he's a mismatch out of the backfield" as a receiver and noting that he can be split outside and also be counted upon to run hard between the tackles.

Jeremiah called Johnson "a great fit" for the Patriots, and mentioned Abdullah as another back who is a solid dual threat. "If you want a little more size, maybe T.J. Yeldon," Jeremiah said.

Some potential mid-round picks that the analysts thought would help fill holes for the Pats were defensive linemen Tyeler Davison of Fresno State and Darius Philon of Arkansas, wide receiver Tony Lippett of Michigan State and offensive lineman Mitch Morse of Missouri. Morse played tackle for the Tigers, but Jeremiah said he could move to guard and would fit inside with the Patriots.

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Duke Johnson on NFL draft, LeSean McCoy comparisons, more

Former Miami running back Duke Johnson is among the most talented rushers in a draft class that is deep at the position, and is one of several Hurricanes who should be chosen on either the first or second day of the 2015 NFL Draft, to be held April 30-May 2 in Chicago. Three weeks away from the day he has prepared for, Johnson took time for a Q&A with College Football 24/7:

CFB247: What is the biggest strength you will bring to an NFL team as a rookie, and in what area will you need to improve the most?
Johnson: I think my ability to make people miss in the open field, catch the ball out of the backfield, and do a lot of different things in an offense is my biggest strength. I feel like I'm a complete player who can do whatever is asked. As far something I need to improve, I am working to improve my technique in pass protection. I can pick up the blitz, but I can get better as far as doing it the way coaches want.

You've said before that you see similarities between your game and LeSean McCoy's. In what ways?
I just think the way he can see the hole and make his cuts, and make things happen in the open field, I feel like those are some of the things I bring, too. He can also catch the ball and make plays that way -- he can really do everything.

You grew up in Miami and attended Miami Norland High. What would it mean to you if you were drafted by the Miami Dolphins?
Growing up, I liked all Miami sports. The Marlins, the Heat, the Dolphins, it didn't matter. I've always been a Miami sports fan, so that would be great. I think it's a very slim possibility that the Dolphins will draft me, because they already have Lamar Miller, who is doing a great job there. But to get the chance to play in front of my hometown would be a special thing for me.

Do you have any former Miami teammates in the NFL now who have helped you with advice during your draft preparation?
(Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver) Allen Hurns is a guy I know pretty well who I can talk to. His main advice to me has just been not to worry too much about things like the combine and the pro day, because at the end of the day, we're getting judged mainly on our film. And as long as what you put on film is good, everything else will take care of itself.

If NFL scouts could see only one game film of you, which game would you want it to be?
That's a tough one. I would have to say the Virginia game of my freshman year. I was young, but that was a game where I really got to show everything i can do, from running the ball to catching it out of the backfield, returning kicks, blocking, all of it. I even got to throw a touchdown pass.

(Editor's note: In a 41-40 loss to the Cavaliers, Johnson rushed for 150 yards on only 16 carries, caught one pass, threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to Hurns on a halfback option, and returned a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown. His 368 all-purpose yards, which included 214 in returns, set a single-game school record.)

Who is the best linebacker you've ever faced in a game?
Arthur Brown, who played for Kansas State. He was just everywhere. We couldn't get away from him.

What makes Hurricanes linebacker Denzel Perryman a special player?
He can't be blocked. He refuses to stay blocked. Some people say he's small or whatever, but he makes up for it. He is an aggressive, tough, rugged linebacker, and he always knows where the ball is going to be. He is by far (the defense's hardest hitter)."

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Scout thinks Duke Johnson will be sidelined often

An NFL scout speaking to ESPN's Todd McShay raised concerns about Miami RB Duke Johnson's ability to stay on the field.

The scout questioned Johnson's toughness and frame. "If teams are worried he could miss multiple games each year, that will certainly hurt his stock," McShay wrote. "When he's on the field, he provides a lot in terms of his third-down capabilities and big-play ability." The 5-foot-9, 194-pound Johnson had 1,652 rushing yards on a 6.8 YPC average and 10 touchdowns in 2014, adding 38 receptions for 421 yards and three scores. "Among the running back prospects in this year's class, Johnson offers some of the best skills as a pass-catcher, and that was on display Wednesday [at his pro day]," wrote McShay. "He looked really good running routes and was very comfortable catching the ball."

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proCane Pro Day Recap

In front of reps from all 32 NFL teams, the unquestioned star was receiver Phillip Dorsett. He blazed his way to an unofficial 4.25-second 40-yard dash after running an already-excellent 4.33 at the NFL combine in February. He could have settled on that time and simply performed pass-catching drills for NFL scouts, but Dorsett wanted to put on a show.

“It was just me and my competitive spirit just coming out here and doing everything,” Dorsett said. “Because I know everybody wants to see it. Everybody likes to see a guy go out and compete and do everything.”

Dorsett, who measured in at 5-foot-10 and 184 pounds, said he improved his vertical to 38 inches (he leaped 37 at the combine) and bench-pressed 225 pounds 13 times (he did not lift at the combine).

For me, the star of the day was Phillip Dorsett,” NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said. “A kid who didn’t have to do anything because he performed so well at the combine. What did he do today? Comes out runs a 4.25, 4.26, jumps 38 inches, 10-9 broad [jump], and then looked fantastic catching the football and getting in and out of breaks. I thought Phillip Dorsett had an outstanding day.”

Dorsett will work out for the Dolphins, Panthers and Falcons. What if the hometown chose him?

“Being a Hurricane and I always was a fan of the Dolphins, too,” said Dorsett, from Fort Lauderdale-St. Thomas Aquinas. “It would be great. It would be a dream come true,” he said.

* Linebacker Denzel Perryman suffered a pulled right hamstring and scratched on his second attempt at running the 40-yard dash. UM did not release official testing results to the media, but according to a group of scouts that got together and compared times, Perryman’s first heat in the 40 was a 4.67 — better than the 4.78 he ran in Indianapolis.

He did not perform in the shuttle, 3-cone and positional drills. He said not being able to finish was “real disappointing, but I think a lot of teams just wanted to see what I could run. I feel I accomplished that today. I answered a lot of questions.”

He said he measured in at 5-11 and 239 pounds and put up 30 reps of 225 pounds. He increased his vertical from 32 (combine) to 33 inches.

Perryman watched film with the Lions hours before pro day began and has three NFL team visits lined up: he will meet with the Dolphins next Thursday, the Falcons on April 12 and the Panthers on April 16. Along with Clive Walford and Dorsett, he ate dinner with Saints brass Tuesday night at Fleming’s Steakhouse in Coral Gables. Perryman said he ate shrimp and scallops (Rob Ryan had a steak, if you were wondering).

* Running back Duke Johnson ran a 4.47 twice, which was a much better result than his combine time (4.54). He also “caught the ball naturally,” according to Mayock.

Why run the 40 again? “I wanted to do it for myself, because I know I can do better, and I know I train too hard to run what I ran at the combine,” he said, adding that his “game speed speaks for itself. … If you run 4.2, 4.3 but you don’t play it, it really doesn’t make a difference.”

Dolphins GM Dennis Hickey agreed.

“When we watch guys play with helmets and shoulder pads, those are the important things,” he said. “Those guys that play fast and also run fast, that’s great. The importance is the speed they play at.” The 40 time is “a measurement — you always judge it against how they play.”

Johnson, who measured in at 5-9 and 203 pounds, said he did 18 reps of 225. He did not lift at the NFL combine.

Tight end Clive Walford did not run because he suffered a hamstring pull last week. Walford (6-4, 250) said he would meet with the Steelers after pro day and the Falcons and Packers in the coming days. He said he has talked to a laundry list of teams, including the Dolphins, Saints, Falcons, Packers, Broncos, Chargers, 49ers, Ravens, Chiefs and Buccaneers.

Walford, a Glades Central grad and South Bay native, on the hometown team: “I talked to them. I wouldn’t say a lot, but I saw that move that they made this offseason. Shout-out to the Dolphins.” He’s talking, of course, about the Fins adding Ndamukong Suh.

Is UM’s tight end tradition helping his draft stock? “We produce great tight ends,” he said. “Look at the history. We’ve got great ones to come. I feel I kept up that legacy. Hopefully the young ones do as well.

* Offensive tackle Ereck Flowers, a projected first-rounder, did not perform lifting drills – he was the top overall bench-presser at the NFL combine, with 37 reps of 225 – but did everything else. Flowers did not speak to the media (he rarely does).

Mayock was very high on Flowers, Jon Feliciano and Shane McDermott‘s performances.

“I counted eight to 10 offensive line coaches, obviously here to see mostly Ereck Flowers, who I think is going to be a first-round draft pick,” he said. “But Feliciano could get drafted. Shane McDermott could get drafted. I thought it was a great day for that whole group of players.”

* Defensive end Anthony Chickillo, who looked even lighter than he did at the combine (when he measured 6-3, 267), looked like a much more explosive player than he was as a 280-pound strong-side defensive end at UM. “Very twitchy” was Walford’s assessment. “Quick. Fast.”

* Quarterbacks Ryan Williams and Jake Heaps threw a variety of routes for scouts. Williams said he checked in at 6-4 and change and 215 pounds, and ran a 4.84 in the 40. Before tearing his ACL last April 4 – 362 days ago – he said he ran in the 5-second range. He definitely looked a lot faster than before. He has several meetings scheduled, but has not worked out with an NFL team.

“I’m always positive,” Williams said. “Regardless if I get drafted or not I’m still going to get a chance somewhere so I’m not really worried about the draft.”

* Cornerback Ladarius Gunter ran a solid 4.56 time in the 40 and looked very rangy in coverage drills.  He’s projected as a mid-round pick.

* Linebacker Thurston Armbrister showed good speed and agility, though he struggled to catch interceptions in drills. Would bet he gets a shot somewhere.

* Defensive tackle Olsen Pierre ran a 5.15 in the 40.

* If you saw my Twitter feed, you’ll get a roll of NFL personnel I spotted, but among the notables were a large contingent of Dolphins personnel (GM Dennis Hickey, VP Mike Tannenbaum, head coach Joe Philbin, offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle, running backs coach Jeff Nixon, special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi), Jets head coach Todd Bowles, Saints head coach Sean Payton and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin. NFL Network said seven GMs attended, including Hickey. The others: Mickey Loomis (Saints), Mike Maccagnan (Jets), Kevin Colbert (Steelers), Doug Whaley (Bills), Steve Keim (Arizona), Ruston Webster (Tennessee) and Floyd Reese (Giants). Former Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland, now a college scout with New Orleans, was also there.

* Former Hurricanes who attended included Andre Johnson, Frank Gore, Clinton Portis, Edgerrin James, Demarcus Van Dyke, Jacory Harris, Lamar Miller and Tommy Streeter. A slew of players from the 2012 and 2013 teams were there. Jonathan Vilma was also in attendance, working for NBC Sports along with former Dolphins great Jason Taylor. NFL Network had a five-person crew and analyst Mike Mayock interviewed several UM players and coach Al Golden, who did not speak to other media.

* Former Hurricanes running back Damien Berry, a Glades Central grad who won a Super Bowl with Baltimore in 2012, was the oldest of several pre-2014 Hurricanes who worked out (linebacker Tyrone Cornelius and defensive end Shayon Green, both from the 2013 team, also performed).  “I’m still young, 26 years old. I think it’s time to give it another shot,” said Berry, who last played for UM in 2010 and now lives in Boca Raton. Berry, 5-11 and 230 pounds, he said he ran a 4.7 in the 40.

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Frank Gore talks UM tradition, Duke Johnson

The sight of former Hurricanes greats on Miami’s campus has become somewhat routine. And plenty of them were there again Wednesday for Miami's Pro Day.

But even by UM’s standards, Wednesday’s parade of former Miami standouts was noticeable, especially for fans of running backs.

As Duke Johnson, the Hurricanes’ all-time leading rusher worked out for the 32 NFL teams that attended Pro Day on the Greentree Practice Field, he did so under the watchful eyes of Edgerrin James, Clinton Portis and Frank Gore, three of the players he passed in the UM record book.

After his workout, Johnson said that having the opportunity to show off his skills in front of players like those is part of what drove him, not just Wednesday but throughout his UM career.

“It’s a great feeling, especially when you have the alumni, as many that came out as possible to support us,” Johnson said. “I think it pushes us a lot. We see them every now and then when they come in to work out, but actually having them come out here and support us when they don’t have to, it shows that they really care about us.”

And Gore, who signed with Indianapolis last month after a lengthy career in San Francisco that saw him become the 49ers all-time leading rusher, said there’s one big reason former players were in Coral Gables on Wednesday.

“Family,” Gore said. “This is the tradition we have here. I try to come down during my bye week, sometimes during the summer. … this is great to see some of the guys I haven’t seen in a while.”

Gore then praised Johnson’s effort, saying he thinks the former Miami Norland star can be the next great Miami running back in the NFL.

“He’s a tough guy. Very explosive. I like how he plays the game,” Gore said of Johnson. “He plays the game and you can tell he loves the game. Plus, he’s from Miami, man. That’s what we do.”

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Duke Johnson on improved 40 time: 'I knew I could do better'

CORAL GABLES, Fla. – University of Miami running back Duke Johnson was all business during the school's annual pro day.

Unlike many of his college teammates and draft counterparts, Johnson believed he had a lot to prove after not performing up to expectations at the NFL combine. He was most bothered by his 40-yard-dash time of 4.59 seconds in February.

But Johnson ran faster Wednesday and met his personal expectations. He ran the 40 in 4.47, bench-pressed 225 pounds 18 times and caught the ball well out of the backfield.

Despite a good day overall, Johnson was most happy about shaving time off his 40-yard dash.

“I knew I could do better,” Johnson said after the pro day. “I know I trained too hard to run what I ran at the combine. But I think my game speed speaks for itself. I wanted to make sure I came out here and showed that I can do it.”

Johnson had a stellar career at Miami. He finished as the school’s all-time leading rusher at a position with a history of top stars such as Edgerrin James, Willis McGahee, Clinton Portis and Ottis Anderson.

There are plenty of stats and game film to validate Johnson as one of the top tailback prospects in the draft. He is projected to go in the second or third round. But Johnson also did himself a favor by giving scouts one less thing to pick apart.

According to the University of Miami’s athletic department, all 32 NFL teams were represented Wednesday.

“Last year there were teams out here, but I don’t think it was all 32 teams,” Johnson said. “To come out here and watching all the guys come out, compete and work hard to show what they can do at the next level is a great feeling, especially when you have alumni come out, as many as possible, to support us.”

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Duke Johnson to be full go at pro day

CBS Sports Dane Brugler reports that Miami RB Duke Johnson (hamstring) is expected to be a full participant at Wednesday's pro day.

In other words, Johnson intends to take part in all tests in addition to position drills. Priority No. 1 for the talented runner is improving upon his combine 40-yard dash after posting a disappointing 4.54 in Indianapolis. That number, of course, could have been affected by a right hamstring strain. Because of that injury, Johnson didn't run the shuttles or the three-cone drill at the combine. Expect all 32 teams to simply migrate south after taking in FSU's pro day on Thursday. They'll also check out OT Ereck Flowers, LB Denzel Perryman, TE Clive Walford, DE Anthony Chickillo, WR Phillip Dorsett, DB Ladarius Gunter and OL Jon Feliciano.

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proCane Pro Day On Wednesday, Who to Watch

Who to watch: Offensive tackle Ereck Flowers will headline a talented group of Miami players on Wednesday in Coral Gables. Flowers recorded 37 repetitions of 225 pounds on the bench press at the NFL Scouting Combine, the most of any player, and is projected to be a first-round pick. Wide receiver Phillip Dorsett was expected to be in the running for the fastest 40-yard dash time at the combine, but he finished in third with a 4.33. Dorsett has been clocked as fast as 4.18.

Also keep an eye on: RB Duke Johnson, TE Clive Walford, LB Denzel Perryman, DE Anthony Chickillo, CB Ladarius Gunter and G Jon Feliciano.

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Duke Johnson touts his own durability

Simply put, Miami running back Duke Johnson questions those who question him.

Johnson (5-foot-9, 207 pounds) left UM after his junior season, already holding the school's career rushing mark with 3,519 yards. He also had 14 career 100-yard games, tying him with Edgerrin James and Clinton Portis for the most in school history. Despite his production and high-level receiving ability, Johnson has been knocked because of his size and durability.

He often has said he is short, not small. But the durability thing? That irritates him.

"I think it's a joke," Johnson told the Charlotte Observer. "I had a freak injury. I broke my ankle once, and that was the only time I missed a game (he missed five games as a sophomore in 2013). That was an accident that could have happened to anybody. I don't see the durability thing. Somebody will always have something to say."

Johnson played in all 13 games in 2014, when he rushed for 1,652 yards and 10 TDs and also caught 38 passes.

"I didn't have an injury that caused me to miss a game last year," Johnson told the Observer. "I think that goes to show that it's not a durability thing. It was a freak accident. If I am hurt and can play, I will play."

Depending on the evaluator, Johnson is at or near the top of the second tier of backs available in this draft. Georgia's Todd Gurley and Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon are the top tier and both are expected to go in the first round. Johnson, Boise State's Jay Ajayi, Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah, Indiana's Tevin Coleman and maybe Alabama's T.J. Yeldon are in the second tier, with their ranking a "beauty-is-in-the-eye-of-the-beholder" thing.

NFL Media analysts Bucky Brooks and Mike Mayock have Johnson fourth among running backs, while fellow analyst Lance Zierlein has Johnson fifth.

Johnson seems likely to be drafted somewhere in the second round; teams that could be looking for running back help in the second round include Baltimore, Dallas, Jacksonville, Minnesota, New England and St. Louis. Johnson seems confident he can help as a rookie.

"I think my game translates because I'm versatile," he told the Observer. "It's a passing league. I'm able to create mismatches in the slot and out of the backfield to help my team move the ball and put points on the board."

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Duke Johnson ready to face his NFL doubters

Duke Johnson is tired of hearing concerns about his durability.

The all-time leading rusher in the history of the Miami Hurricanes, Johnson has repeatedly had to answer questions about whether he can hold up in the NFL despite missing just the final five games of his junior season because of injury.

“I think it’s a joke,” Johnson told the Observer on Monday in a phone interview. “I had a freak injury. I broke my ankle once, and that was the only time I missed a game. That was an accident that could have happened to anybody.

“I don’t see the durability thing. Somebody will always have something to say.”

At 5-foot-9 and 207 pounds, Johnson is an undersized running back by NFL standards. If he were an every-down back, there would be concerns on how many hits he could withstand.

He was able to play through injuries and migraines – which he’s suffered since he was a kid – to rush for 1,652 yards in 2014.

“I didn’t have an injury that caused me to miss a game last year,” Johnson said. “I think that goes to show that it’s not a durability thing. It was a freak accident. If I am hurt and can play, I will play.”

Johnson met with 22 teams at last month’s scouting combine, including a quick meeting with the Panthers, who have Jonathan Stewart and Fozzy Whittaker under contract for next season. He and his representation won’t begin visiting teams until after Miami’s April 1 pro day.

Johnson is his school’s leading rusher with 3,519 career yards, more than Clinton Portis, Edgerrin James or Frank Gore. He did it in three seasons before deciding to forgo his final year and enter the draft.

Johnson said he’s noticed the devaluation of running backs in recent drafts, and after a solid junior year he felt the time was right.

Former Georgia running back Todd Gurley and Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon are firmly the top two rushers in this year’s draft. Johnson is competing with Boise State’s Jay Ajayi, Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon and Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah for the No. 3 spot.

The third running back taken will likely go in the second round. The first running back taken in the 2014 draft was selected late in the second round.

Though he disappointed himself by running a 4.54-second 40-yard dash at last month’s combine, Johnson still has good football speed that allows him to outrace defenders. His ability to run between the tackles isn’t as good as his zone running skills, but he likely wouldn’t be asked to do that in the NFL.

He needs to improve his pass protection, and has tried to work on his base and hand placement when blitzers come. He has ability as a receiver out of the backfield – he had 69 catches for 719 yards in his career.

“I think my game translates because I’m versatile,” Johnson said. “It’s a passing league. I’m able to create mismatches in the slot and out of the backfield to help my team move the ball and put points on the board.”

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Duke Johnson comps to Vereen, who he could replace

Miami RB Duke Johnson "compares favorably to [Shane] Vereen from a size, style and versatility standpoint," points out Scouts Inc.'s Kevin Weidl.

It's an interesting observation, because New England lost Vereen to the Giants and might now seek out his replacement in the draft. Johnson, a newer make of a similar sports car, should hold great interest because of that. "He has a strong combination of vision, quickness and burst to create yards as a runner and after the catch, and he is dangerous in space," Weidl wrote. "In addition, Johnson brings the versatility to create mismatches in the passing game with experience both out of the backfield and flexed out in the slot." The 5-foot-9, 194-pound Johnson had 1,652 rushing yards on a 6.8 YPC average and 10 touchdowns in 2014, adding 38 receptions for 421 yards and three scores.

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Bucky Brooks: RB Duke Johnson scoring rave reviews

NFL Media analyst Bucky Brooks notes that scouts have "raved about" Miami RB Duke Johnson's "footwork, quickness and creativity."

"The scouts also touted Miami RB Duke Johnson as a playmaker. They raved about his footwork, quickness and creativity. Impressed with IQ, too," Brooks tweeted. The 5-foot-9, 194-pound Johnson possesses a ton of explosiveness, which should translate well to the next level. However, the Miami prospect will have to continue to improve in pass-protection, in order to see valuable time on the field. NFL teams looking for a back with game-changing ability in the open field, will look to grab him on day 2 of the draft.

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Clinton Portis: Denzel Perryman can fill Patrick Willis' void on 49ers

Denzel Perryman's shoe size probably isn't much more impressive than his height (5-foot-11), but the way two-time Pro Bowl running back Clinton Portis sees it, Perryman could be filling some awfully big shoes as an NFL rookie.

Those of Patrick Willis.

"If you put him in the right scheme he will be excellent," Portis told stateoftheu.com. "I can see the 49ers taking a long look at him with Patrick Willis retiring. Picking up a linebacker who comes with his attitude would really help them."

Willis retired last week at age 30 after a prolific but abbreviated eight-year career. Perryman was the soul of the Hurricanes' defense last year and is their top defensive draft prospect amid a cast of offensive prospects that includes running back Duke Johnson, wide receiver Phillip Dorsett, tackle Ereck Flowers and tight end Clive Walford.

But while Perryman might be a good fit for the 49ers, the draft order suggests he might not fit any of the club's draft choices. Perryman is regarded as a late-first or early second-round prospect. Two of five NFL Media analysts project him as a late first-round pick, and Portis sees him as a late-first or early second-rounder as well. The trouble is, San Francisco picks at No. 15 in the first round -- perhaps too rich of a pick for Perryman's draft value -- and by the time the club selects again in the middle of the second round, Perryman could easily be wearing another club's hat.

A trade up or down might be required to facilitate a Perryman-49ers marriage. Regardless, Portis likes Perryman above all the other Miami prospects on the offensive side of the ball. He likened Perryman to former NFL linebackers London Fletcher, Al Wilson and Nate Webster.

"I definitely think he will go at the end of the first or early in the second round," Portis said. "Watching the film of all of the players from Miami, the person who stood out the most was Denzel, because of how he attacked the ball. He sometimes even played off double teams -- a linebacker should never face double teams."
Other thoughts from Portis on Miami's top prospects:

» On Johnson: "I think Duke probably is most talented running back to ever come out of the University of Miami."
That's high praise, given the long list of UM backs to have big NFL careers, including Edgerrin James and Portis himself.

» On Dorsett: "When you look at that Florida State game, Phillip Dorsett still hasn't been covered. They should have never stopped getting him the ball."
Dorsett had four catches for 90 yards and a touchdown in a 30-26 loss to the Seminoles last season. Of note in that game is that FSU's two cornerbacks, P.J. Williams and Ronald Darby, will both get draft-day calls, as well.

» On Walford: "If you look at his ability to get open and catch the ball, he follows well in the UM tradition of Jeremy Shockey and Kellen Winslow and Jimmy Graham. Walford is going to be in that category."

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Brooks: Duke Johnson the best draft fit for Eagles

1. Duke Johnson, Miami
Brooks: "Duke Johnson in my mind would probably be the best fit. He's a carbon copy of Shady McCoy stylistically, the way he runs inside and outside. He's outstanding as a receiver out of the backfield. He could make a seamless transition into that system because his skills are identical to those of Shady."

See the rest of the rankings here.

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Saints Draft Prospects: Duke Johnson Could Be The Right Fit At Running Back

Duke Johnson
Position: Running back
School: Miami (FL)
Height: 5-foot-9
Weight: 207 pounds

The first thing that jumps off Johnson’s tape is his elite burst and quick feet. He has great patience combined with elite vision which makes him stand out from the other runners in this deep class. He allows blocks to develop, then uses his short area quickness to explode through seams for big gains. The former Hurricane can change direction on a dime without slowing down and is a one-cut runner.

Johnson may not be the biggest back but he finishes off runs and is not afraid to deliver contact to would-be tacklers. When watching a couple of his games, his physical style and competitive nature really stood out. He wants the ball in his hands and he is very fun to watch.

He has improved as a receiver in every season, totaling 38 receptions in 2014 after combining for 31 receptions in the prior two seasons. Possessing his elite athleticism, he can separate from linebackers and is a pretty good route runner. He has soft hands and can make difficult catches. Johnson is a complete third down, NFL back.

Although he has numerous positives in his game, Johnson does possess a few negatives. His elite athleticism makes him bounce more runs to the outside than he should and although he started all 13 games in 2014, he dealt with a few injuries in the 2013 season, including a season ending ankle injury. His ball security could also be improved as he fumbled three times last season.

Overall, Johnson will soon be added to the list of great NFL players to come through “The U,” and he will succeed in a niche (third down) role for his future team. His competitive fire will influence teammates and per CBSsports.com, Johnson is driven to become the provider to his family, as they grew up living out of a car with their mother.

Where would he fit in New Orleans?
The Saints have yet to replace Darren Sproles’ third down production out of the backfield and the former Hurricane would be the perfect safety net for the aging Drew Brees. Johnson is a playmaker with the ball in his hands, both as a running back and as a pass catcher, and he would do wonders in the New Orleans offense. As of right now, he is not a three-down back and it would be best to keep him fresh by using him strictly in certain sub-packages and on third down. Johnson is the prototypical third-down back that the Saints have been lacking since Sproles’ departure.

Where could the Saints draft him?
Johnson is included in this very deep running back class where he is the fourth or fifth best ball carrier. Depending on the need for running backs, Johnson may be able to slip to the Saints’ third-round pick, as I project him as a mid-second to early-third round selection. Although he is a very good fit for the Saints, there will be other quality running backs available if he does not slip to New Orleans in round three. If he is conveted by the Saints, they could move back into the mid-to-late second round for a shot at selecting Johnson.

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Bob Sturm’s 2015 NFL Draft profile: What I see in Duke Johnson, RB, Miami

Duke Johnson, RB, Miami (Fla) – 5’9, 207 – Junior

As we continue to roll through the high number of impressive running back prospects that make the 2015 unique in that regard, we arrive at the first of three (also, Ameer Abdullah and Mike Davis) who are under 5’10 and therefore are looked with the awkward eye that questions durability and the ability to be more than a change-up back.  All 3 are built well, with weight over 205, but when looking at the size and build of each of these players, durability and disposition are going to go heavily into how we see them fit in today’s NFL molds.  Never mind that Barry Sanders and Emmitt Smith were both under 5’10 and above 200, the league now asks these questions as most of the fulltime backs are at or around 6’0.  To examine the accomplished Miami Hurricane RB who is the all-time leading rusher of that famous school, we looked at his games against Nebraska, Virginia Tech, and Florida State.

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What I liked:  For me, having watched Johnson quite a bit this year, the first thing I like is his competitiveness and his reckless abandon when he hits the hole up inside.  He seems pretty fearless and not bothered at all about being the smallest guy in most scenarios, because he seems to do a lot of his best work between the hash marks and most of his runs between the tackles.  He is a really solid runner in the zone stretches where he must plant his foot and head upfield with decisiveness and explosion.  He has both.  He is a smaller player who runs even smaller in terms of staying low and making yourself a tough target to hit.  He also is delivering the hits and stiff-arms and fighting to not go to the ground.  As a receiver, he just might be the best in the group as not only is a good screen/safety valve RB, but he is actually dangerous with arrow and wheel routes as a primary receiver.  They throw a lot at him and he catches very well and then hits the nitro.  On the 2nd level, there is so much to like as he gets in space and is hard to track down.

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What I did not like:  He is not much of a pass protector, but even in that scenario, he doesn’t get rushed much because his defender is backed off and concerned about losing Johnson in the flat.  He isn’t the best in two important categories for a RB – short yardage and the 4-minute drill situations where the defense is sitting on the run, it seems like he might not quite be to the level of the other backs we have examined.  I would call him average in both of those.  Also, when you get him to turn his shoulders and go wide, he does lose some of his steam and punishment.  I need him with his shoulders square going north and south where he is at his best.  He has a few nagging injuries that have some wondering about long-term durability as well as a concussion/migraine headache issue or two on his sheet that will get a thorough examination from a prospective employer.

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Summary:  There is a lot to like here with Duke Johnson, but it is understandable that he might be on that tier below the top with regards to some of the items listed above.  That said, as a zone runner with fantastic receiving skills and an attitude that you just have to love, he might be the type of guy who people wonder in 4 years why we were picking him apart when we should have been merely focusing on what makes him special.  If you were to focus on his strengths, you could really fall in love with what he brings to the table in so many regards.  But, if you want him to be your #1 RB, you might want to make sure your stable behind him is ready to pick up some of the workload just in case.

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Dolphins meet with Clive Walford, Duke Johnson

The Miami Dolphins, who could be looking for a running back and a tight end in the first two rounds of the draft, met with former Univeristy of Miami stars Duke Johnson and Clive Walford at the NFL Scouting Combine.

Johnson, UM's all-time leading rusher, is expected to be drafted in the second round. Walford, generally regarded as the second-best tight end in the draft behind Minnesota's Maxx Williams, also is slated to be taken in the second round.

The Dolphins have the 14th pick in the first round.

The Dolphins could be looking for a running back to share the load with Lamar Miller, who rushed for 1,099 yards last season. He averaged 5.1 yards per carry on his 216 attempts, and scored nine touchdowns. But he was limited to 16 touches per game, which hints Miami needs another back to compliment him.

It is unlikely that Knowshon Moreno, who suffered a season-ending knee injury last season, will be re-signed.

This is the deepest crop of running back talent since the 2008 NFL Draft, led by first-round hopefuls Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon and Georgia's Todd Gurley.

The Dolphins are dealing with some uncertainty at the tight end position because starter Charles Clay is a free agent.

Walford would be a solid addition after dominating Senior Bowl practices, especially in red-zone drills.

“I have a great ability to jump,” Walford said. “In the red zone, I use my body and my jumping ability to go up over the top of defenders and grab the ball. I am the best tight end in this draft because I can block, I can catch, I can run after the catch, do everything that a tight end is expected to do.”

Walford, who caught 121 career passes and scored 14 touchdowns, also had combine meetings with the Baltimore Ravens, Green Bay Packers, Atlanta Falcons, San Francisco 49ers, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Detroit Lions.

There are some questions about Walford's hands, though, as he's had his share of dropped passes.

Walford showed he was healthy at the Senior Bowl after undergoing an arthroscopic procedure on his right meniscus.

"It was very important because I was told that people thought I tore my medial collateral ligament, which I didn't," Walford said. "I just had a scope on my right meniscus. I just wanted to go out and show everybody that I was healthy."

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Duke Johnson compares himself to LeSean McCoy

INDIANAPOLIS – University of Miami running back Duke Johnson is fast and explosive. But many draft analysts peg him as a third-rounder because of questions about his durability and ability to be a lead back.

It’s also a deep running back draft, which court hurt Johnson.

But Johnson believes he can be a three-down back and a major difference maker in the NFL.

“It’s not my job to tell you what I think about what other people say,” he said today at the NFL scouting combine. “The only thing is to come in and show that I can do it and I can perform.

“Whoever drafts me will get a great player and they won’t regret it.”

He met with the Miami Dolphins on Wednesday night and has a lot of interviews lined up with NFL teams.

Johnson says he won’t bench at the combine but he’ll do all the other drills. He’s hoping to complete the 40-yard dash in the low 4.4’s.

He compared himself to Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy.

“His quickness, his burst, his ability to move in the open field, receiving out of the back field,” Johnson said.

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Ravens plan to meet with RBs Melvin Gordon, Duke Johnson and David Johnson at combine

The Ravens met with University of Miami running back Duke Johnson.

Johnson is slightly undersized at 5 feet 9, 206 pounds, but is quick and elusive and has good hands. There are some durability concerns with Johnson, but his versatility and jump-cut running style have drawn comparions to Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy.

He's projected as a second-round draft pick after finishing his college career with 3,519 yards and 26 touchdowns.

“Being able to receive out of the backfield is the No. 1 thing," Johnson said. "I’m a mismatch with linebackers. I can catch the ball really well. I think at the end of the day if there’s short yardage and I need to get it, I’ll go and get it. Whoever drafts me will get a great player and they won’t regret it.”

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Duke Johnson's durability could hurt draft stock

Miami RB Duke Johnson "a very explosive player, but durability concerns could hurt his draft stock," wrote ESPN's Todd McShay.

"He's undersized (5-9, 206), and even though he started all 13 games in 2014, he's dealt with some injuries during his Miami career," McShay wrote. "He suffered a season-ending ankle injury in 2013, has dealt with concussion-like symptoms and has a history of migraines." The 5-foot-9, 194-pound Johnson had 1,652 rushing yards on a 6.8 YPC average and 10 touchdowns in 2014, adding 38 receptions for 421 yards and three scores. He finished with 3,519 career rushing yards, passing in the record books elite Hurricane RBs such as Frank Gore, Clinton Portis, Edgerrin James, Willis McGahee and Ottis Anderson. CBS projects him as a Day 2 pick.

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Duke Johnson just a 3rd down RB, per scout

The Miami Herald's Barry Jackson spoke with one NFC scout who believes Miami RB Duke Johnson will merely be a third down back "due to his size."

If it is only based on size, that is ridiculous. We will soon see what Johnson weighs, but he was listed at 5'9/200 lbs while with the Hurricanes. There is a major difference between "short" and "small." Also, a number of ball carriers have succeeded at that size, and smaller, on more than just passing downs.

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8 Future NFL proCane Headed To Combine

Eight Miami Hurricanes are making the pilgrimage to Indianapolis this week — eight players eyeing future dreams and envisioning the performances of their lives at the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine.

“It’s amazing to have seven guys who are my brothers competing with me in one place and representing our school,” said receiver Phillip Dorsett, who hopes to shatter Chris Johnson’s NFL Combine 40-yard-dash record of 4.24 seconds, set in 2007. “I’ve watched the scouting combine every year and always dreamed of being there. Now, I’m ready to perform.’’

Despite UM’s 6-7 record, the Hurricanes had enough talent for their eight standouts — defensive end Anthony Chickillo, wide receiver Phillip Dorsett, offensive linemen Jonathan Feliciano and Ereck Flowers, cornerback Ladarius Gunter, running back Duke Johnson, linebacker Denzel Perryman and tight end Clive Walford — to be invited to the Combine most coveted by players and NFL executives alike.

Last year, of the five Hurricanes invited (Seantrel Henderson, Allen Hurns, Brandon Linder, Stephen Morris and Pat O’Donnell), three were drafted. This year’s NFL Draft is April 30-May 2.

“I’m really excited to go up there and show the NFL what I can offer,” said Feliciano, who said he has “slimmed down” from 335 to 325 pounds and has gotten stronger in the process. “I want to run faster and look good for the NFL scouts.”

Feliciano and projected first-round prospect Flowers leave Tuesday for Indy, as athletes by position groups are staggered throughout the week and undergo medical exams, team interviews, psychological testing and an array of performance drills.

Dorsett, a Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas graduate who was projected by analyst Mel Kiper Jr. to be drafted late in the first round, said he will run the 40 on Saturday, with the NFL Network providing live TV coverage.

“I don’t really have a goal,” said the speedster, who posted single-season career highs of 871 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns in 2014 and has been timed as low as 4.21 in the 40. He noted that the 4.21 was timed by hand-held stopwatches as opposed to the NFL’s more sophisticated electronic timers — “so, it doesn’t really count. I’m going to run my fastest and whatever happens, happens.’’

Johnson, UM’s all-time rushing leader with 3,519 yards, said his combine goal is “to be myself, have fun and show who I am on and off the field — not only in football but when it comes to interviews.

“We have to enjoy the experience because everybody doesn’t get a chance to do it.’’

Johnson, Dorsett and Perryman have continued training at UM with strength and conditioning coach Andreu Swasey — and a bevy of other Hurricanes, including former Canes and NFL players such as Andre Johnson, Jimmy Graham, Lamar Miller, Olivier Vernon, Travis Benjamin and Brandon Harris.

“Why work out here? Because I feel really great about myself and Coach Swasey is the reason why,” said Perryman, a first-round projection who lost seven pounds, and now weighs 238. “I’ve been working out with him for four years. My body, my speed, my strength have changed for the better because of him.”

Several other Canes seniors, who weren’t invited to the NFL Combine, will compete on April 1 at UM’s Pro Timing Day. Those include quarterback Ryan Williams, center Shane McDermott, defensive tackle Olsen Pierre and linebacker Thurston Armbrister. But for the chosen eight, the fun begins this week.

“It’s real important,” Perryman said. “You’re on national television. You have all the scouts, head coaches and general managers out there seeing what you can do. But there’s no reason to get nervous.

“Like I said, I feel great about myself.”

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Duke Johnson puts mom at center of success

Duke Johnson is a mama's boy, and proud of it.

He heeds her advice on life, uses the struggles he saw her endure years ago as motivation on the football field today, and tells her everything — or so she thought.

One day in the summer of 2013, after a standout freshman season at Miami, Fla., Johnson, the nation's ninth-leading rusher last year, called his mother with a request.

"I was on my way to work, working midnights, overtime, and he was like, 'Mom, I need a picture of you,' " Cassandra Mitchell recalled. "He said, 'I have pictures of everybody and I don't have a picture of you,' so I was like, 'OK, no problem.' "

Mitchell scrolled through her phone and sent Johnson seven or eight photos. There was one of her with family, a couple at Duke's football games. Then Johnson called back.

"He's like, 'Mom, I need a head shot,' " Mitchell said. "I'm just like, 'A head shot? Boy, I don't like taking no close-ups with this big nose.' He said, 'Mom, I need a head shot.' So me, I sent it not thinking anything."

A few days later, on the Fourth of July, when Johnson showed up with what appeared to be a bandage covering his massive left shoulder, Mitchell went into a momentary state of panic fearing her son hurt his arm and didn't tell her.

"What happened?" Mitchell asked, only to take a closer look and see plastic film covering an image of her face on her son's arm.

"I was like, 'Boy, didn't I tell you to get no more tattoos, but that's so sweet,' " she said. "So I teased him, 'At least you could have given me a nose job.' "

Johnson, who will try to prove his worth as the best running back in the 2015 draft at this week's NFL combine in Indianapolis, said the tattoo is a tribute to the woman who raised him, the hardship they survived and everything she sacrificed to make his football dream come true.

Growing up in the Liberty City section of Miami, an area that has produced many an NFL player, Johnson saw his then-single mother work three jobs to provide for him and his sister, Ranisha.

A corrections officer for most of the last 19 years, Mitchell also worked part time as an office aide at the school board, as a waitress at Pizza Hut and seasonally at Toys R Us when Johnson was growing up, cabbing from job to job around town.

Duke, Ranisha and Mitchell shared a single queen-size bed for part of his youth, and when his mom worked the overnight shift, first at the South Florida Reception Center and more recently at the Miami-Dade County Jail, Duke often stayed with his grandmother, Martha Williams.

"Freshman year of college there was a lot going on for me," said Johnson, whose father, Randy, died of ALS when he was 13. "It was hard on and off the field. I had a lot going on and I just thought about what my mom had went through growing up and she had endured, and I kind of said if she could go through it, it's nothing for me to go through this, it's nothing for me to keep pushing and keep going. So I decided to get the tattoo as just a reminder to myself anytime that things get hard, anytime things get tough, I can look over and she's there.

"That just reminds me of all the things that she did and how tough she was raising me and my sister, so that's something that's really big for me. If something's going bad I can look over and instantly be able to get better."

Though he said he had a tough time adjusting to the rigors of college, not much has gone bad for Johnson on the field the past few years.

He set a Miami freshman rushing record with 947 yards in 2012 and nearly broke Willis McGahee's school record with 2,060 all-purpose yards, including 892 on kick returns with two touchdowns.

Johnson rushed for 920 yards in eight games as a sophomore before a broken right ankle ended his season, and last year he amassed 1,652 yards to set a school record for most rushing yards in a career (3,519).

Among the backs he passed on Miami's all-time rushing list are McGahee, Edgerrin James, Frank Gore, Clinton Portis and Ottis Anderson.

"Just knowing the guys who played before me and doing some of the things they did and me growing up, watching them, just seeing the way they played and what they were able to accomplish, just knowing that I'm the leading rusher now, it's amazing," Johnson said. "I think it's mind-blowing for one, just the names of the guys who came through here and then went to the next level and did the things that they did. It was amazing to me."

Now, Johnson is out to duplicate their success in the NFL.

McGahee, the 23rd overall pick in the 2003 draft, James (No. 4 in 1999) and Anderson (No. 8, 1979) were first-round picks — Portis and Gore were second- and third-rounders, respectively — and all five had long, successful careers.

Johnson, at 5-feet-9 and 205 pounds, is the smallest back of that group, but longtime Miami strength coach Andreu Swasey said he has the same work ethic and drive as his predecessors.

"As great as all the guys were, he's kind of in a category of his own because to me he's kind of a mixture of Frank Gore and Portis," Swasey said. "Frank Gore don't have the speed that Duke will have, but Portis does, and then the vision, I think he has vision like Frank Gore has. So he's kind of a combination, but he's also real good out of the backfield. That's where he — I think that takes him to another level in my eyes. He's a better route runner than I seen out of any of them. As far as a receiver, he's a guy you can put out there and he can do damage at receiver."

Johnson is projected to go in the first two days of this year's draft, and how he performs at this week's combine will help determine where he slots in a deep running back group.

Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon and Georgia's Todd Gurley, who is coming off a torn anterior cruciate ligament, are considered the draft's top backs, but Johnson's speed, special-teams ability and hands could interest a team like the Lions that values versatility in its backfield.

Johnson, who is still taking classes at Miami as he works toward the degree he promised his mom he'll get one day, said he expects to run a low 4.4-second 40-yard dash and in general put on "a good show" at the combine that could help him climb draft boards across the league.

"I'm just hoping my overall combine gets me into Round 1," he said. "The medical, have the doctors look at me, making sure everything from the medical to the board work to the interviews to everything, I'm just hoping this whole experience that I can make an impression on someone who's willing to put a check in front of me."

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NFL.com expects Duke Johnson to dazzle at combine

Miami RB Duke Johnson's "times in the 40 and several other drills should be impressive [at the combine]," observes NFL.com.

"Johnson is a good receiver, which adds to his value and is a reason he could be the third back selected," wrote College Football 24/7 writer Mike Huguenin. "He has had some injury issues, and his medical report will be scrutinized." NFL Media draft analyst Lance Zierlein compares Johnson to C.J. Spiller. "Like Spiller, Johnson has ridiculous foot quickness and lateral agility," Zierlein wrote. "He can catch the ball out of the backfield with ease. He is a very natural runner, but like Spiller, Johnson faces questions about whether he can hold up to the pounding he'll take in the NFL." The 5-foot-9, 194-pound Johnson had 1,652 rushing yards on a 6.8 YPC average and 10 touchdowns in 2014, adding 38 receptions for 421 yards and three scores. CBS projects him as a Day 2 pick.

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Duke Johnson Does Everything but Can't Carry an NFL Offense

Years ago, Miami Hurricanes running back Duke Johnson would have been categorized as a scatback once he made the transition to the NFL. In today's game, Johnson would fall under the more common designation of a third-down back. What Johnson won't be is projected as a feature back who can carry the load for an NFL offense. 

But that doesn't mean his value is completely diminished. 

In a class that features an elite, albeit injured, talent in Georgia's Todd Gurley, a potential first-round pick in Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon and a wild card in Boise State's Jay Ajayi, Johnson holds advantages over all three of them. 

Johnson is healthier at the moment than Gurley. The Miami product is far more polished in the passing game compared to Gordon. And Johnson's overall speed and quickness are superior to Ajayi's. 

This combination will help place Johnson among the top five running backs in this year's class. The problems, though, stem from concerns over Johnson's size and durability. 

The Miami native is listed at 5'9" and 206 pounds. 

Weight certainly fluctuates for all athletes, and some of those listed measurements most likely haven't been updated in years. But the general consensus is that only one of the league's top rushers claims a smaller frame than Johnson. 

Johnson's durability also remains in question due to his size. 

The running back fractured his right ankle in a 2013 contest against the Florida State Seminoles. The same ankle was injured during the Hurricanes' 24-21 loss to the South Carolina Gamecocks in the 2014 Independence Bowl. However, Johnson told The State's Josh Kendall it wasn't a severe injury.

A running back's durability extends beyond his ability to stay on the field, though. 

A player takes a beating at the position throughout his career. A running back's shelf life isn't expected to be more than a handful of years, or whenever that player is about to reach 30 years old. 

While fewer carries at the collegiate level can be seen as a positive for running back prospects, it also leaves room to question the back's ability to thrive as a team's No. 1 option out of the backfield. 

Comparisons to the Philadelphia Eagles' LeSean McCoy and the Kansas City Chiefs' Jamaal Charles will be cited to place Johnson in a favorable light due to their similar statures.

McCoy, though, showed during his time with the Pitt Panthers that he could be the team's primary runner and carry a heavy load. In his two seasons compared to Johnson's three in Miami, McCoy actually accumulated more carries. 

Charles' career path at Texas was much closer to Johnson's, but the current Chief still isn't the ideal comparison. The Cincinnati Bengals' Giovani Bernard's career path, which started with the North Carolina Tar Heels, may be the best example for how Johnson will transition to the NFL level. 

During his first season with the Chiefs, Charles learned behind Larry Johnson. Bernard, meanwhile, only carried the ball 10.6 times per game as a rookie after being drafted in the second round of the 2013 draft. 

This type of scenario would be ideal for Duke Johnson. 

But even if the Miami running back is eventually placed into a similar situation, it doesn't guarantee success. 

After exploding onto the scene as a rookie, Bernard was viewed as the new No. 1 running back in Cincinnati. Bernard's increased role didn't last long.

Through the initial five games of the 2014 season, Bernard averaged 17.2 carries. He then injured his ribs against the Indianapolis Colts on Oct. 19. The running back also suffered an injured shoulder and knee as the season progressed. By the end of the campaign, Bernard missed three games and averaged only 10.2 carries over his final eight games. 

The Bengals instead turned to Jeremy Hill, a 238-pound rookie. Not only did the LSU product assume the lead back duties, but he went on to be one of the NFL's most productive running backs. 

This is the concern that surrounds Duke Johnson. Can he hold up to the rigors of the NFL, or is he merely a rotational player among a team's running back stable? 
Like Bernard, Duke Johnson's value truly lies in his versatility. 

During his final season on campus, Bernard averaged 6.7 yards per carry compared to Johnson's 6.8. The North Carolina standout snagged 47 receptions, while Duke Johnson grabbed 38. Both also proved to be dynamic returners during their careers. 

As a pure runner, the Miami running back owns elite straight-line speed, tremendous lateral quickness and the ability to make a cut without slowing down. 
After running for 1,652 yards as a junior, Duke Johnson declared early for the draft. During his final collegiate campaign, he became Miami's all-time leading rusher. 

Think about that for a second. 

During his time in Coral Gables, Duke Johnson was more productive than Ottis Anderson, Edgerrin James, Clinton Portis, Willis McGahee and Frank Gore. 

However, Duke Johnson isn't the most physical runner. His speed makes him a valuable commodity, but he shouldn't be expected to break tackles or excel as a short-yardage runner at the next level. 

The running back starts to separate himself as a receiver out of the backfield. Duke Johnson caught 38 passes for 421 yards as a junior. He isn't simply a check-down option either; the running back ran wheel and seam routes during the season. He can be a downfield threat when placed in the right situations.

Current players such as Reggie Bush and Darren Sproles bring the same value to their teams. Neither is counted upon to carry the ball more than 10-12 times per game, but each serves as one of his respective team's best receivers. 

The running back is also a willing blocker. While Duke Johnson can be overwhelmed at the point of attack, he does a good job recognizing pressure and picking up the right blitzer or free rusher. 

Duke Johnson even brings added value as a dynamic kick returner. While he wouldn't be the team's top option out of the backfield, the upcoming rookie can prove to be a major presence on special teams. 

Prior to his junior season in which Miami coach Al Golden decided to use him only as a running back, Johnson averaged 31.4 yards per kick return. He also recorded a pair of touchdowns as a true freshman. 

The Arizona Cardinals, Minnesota Vikings, Oakland Raiders and San Diego Chargers are organizations that require running back depth and also finished 22nd overall or worse in kick return average. 

As the NFL becomes more and more specialized with each passing season, the ability to contribute in multiple areas makes prospects like Johnson valuable commodities.

The Miami product's speed with the ball in his hands, ability to contribute in a team's passing attack and brilliance in the return game as a special teams ace will make Duke Johnson a early-round pick in April's NFL draft.

Just don't ask him to be a workhorse in a run-heavy offense. 

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Eight proCanes Invited to NFL Combine

Eight future proCanes received invitations to the NFL Scouting Combine, the Post learned.

Among them are six seniors – defensive end Anthony Chickillo, wide receiver Phillip Dorsett, offensive lineman Jon Feliciano, cornerback Ladarius Gunter, linebacker Denzel Perryman and tight end Clive Walford of Glades Central High – and two underclassmen who declared for the NFL draft.

Running back Duke Johnson and offensive tackle Ereck Flowers, both juniors, will be in Indianapolis from Feb. 17-23.

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“I like Duke Johnson More Than Melvin Gordon,” Says NFL Draft Scout

CBS Sports and ESPN both have Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon as the top running back prospect in the 2015 NFL Draft but another draft guru thinks Miami’s Duke Johnson is the superior pro prospect.

Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller thinks Duke “should be a top-35 player in this year’s draft,” and shared his scouting observations with Omar Kelly and Channing Crowder on WQAM after watching some intriguing Hurricanes draft prospects practice and play at the Senior Bowl last week.

“I like Duke Johnson more than Melvin Gordon as a pro running back to be honest with you,” Miller said. “He’s gotten bigger every year. He’s not a huge guy but he runs with power. So explosive in the open field. Helps you out as a receiver.

“Everyone wants to compare Melvin Gordon to Jamaal Charles because he wears 25 and he’s got the dreads. I think Duke Johnson is a closer comparison to Jamaal Charles because that agilityicon1 and that world-class speed in the open field.”

Although Miller considers this draft weak in talent overall, he noted another Miami Hurricane as a standout at last week’s Senior Bowl in Mobileicon1.

“There were some standout guys, though, and Phillip Dorsett at the University of Miami is definitely one of them,” he said. “I thought he had a great practice every day, got better each day throughout the week as we saw him be coached up. Yeah he’s a small guy but he’s explosive in the open field, very good speed coming off the line of scrimmage, good hands over the middle, good hands down the field so he impressed me a lot.”

Also joining Dorsett and Johnson as solid pro prospects from Coral Gables are offensive tackle Ereck Flowers, defensive back Ladarius Gunter, linebacker Denzel
Perryman, and tight end Clive Walford. Under Al Golden those players won just six games last year, which is befuddling for Miller.

“You look at that talent and then you talk to people and it’s like how did this team win only six games because I thought the Miami guys were some of the besticon1 at their position all week [at the Senior Bowl],” Miller said. “I’m not an expert in the college football field but I think you have to point a finger to the head coach, who obviously can recruit but you have to get production out of those athletes.

“I grew up a Texas fan so I can relate to that — a coach who can recruit like none other but then doesn’t do a great job coaching them up — and so you have to wonder if Miami is in a similar situation with Al Golden of you’re going to get four or five-star kidsicon1 who end up being better in the NFL than they were in college and that’s kind of what ran Mack Brown out down at Austin.”

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Mel Kiper Talks About proCane Draft Picks

According to PalmBeach Post writer Matt Porter, Mel Kiper had the following things to say about this year’s potential proCane draft picks. Follow Matt on twitter here and read his blog here.

Kiper said Flowers is “solidly in round one,” and has him slotted 19th overall to Cleveland.  “Flowers leaving early, people maybe didn’t expect that during the season,” Kiper said (note: outsiders, perhaps; within the program, Flowers was long seen as a three-year guy). “But he’s a kid who’s got enormous talent, decent feet, versatility to play left tackle or right tackle.”

Kiper’s top two running backs are Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon, but he has Johnson right behind them. “Duke can run outside, he’s got that burst,” Kiper said. “He can catch the ball. A heck of a player. I think he’s a second-round talent you might be able to get in the fourth round.”

Dorsett will be a a second- or third-round pick because he “can fly,” Kiper said. “He’s a vertical stretch receiver.” He said he thinks Perryman will be a second-round pick.

Kiper on tight end Clive Walford: “I have him as the fourth highest-rated tight end. He can get down and stretch that deep middle area, which he showed in some games this year. Caught the ball well. He’s not going to have the great, great 40 time that some of these other guys will, but he plays faster and he’ll test [well].

“I think he’s a guy you get into … early- to mid-day three, he’ll make somebody look good at that point, I believe. I think he can be a No. 2 tight end. He’ll contribute. I think Walford’s got a chance to play in this league.”

Asked if cornerback Ladarius Gunter, center Shane McDermott and offensive guard Jon Feliciano could sneak into the late rounds, Kiper said: “Those are some of the names. McDermott right now I have as the seventh or eighth center. That’s a late-round, free-agency guy. Feliciano, same thing.”

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Giants should target Miami's Duke Johnson and Denzel Perryman

Despite not really being relevant for quite some time, the University of Miami is still producing NFL-caliber talent, and the New York Giants should take notice. Two players would be great fits with the Giants: Denzel Perryman and Duke Johnson.

I’ll start with the man they call “Duke.”

While Melvin Gordon ruled the regular season, and Ezekiel Elliott dominated the National Championship game, Duke Johnson quietly had the best rushing season in the history of the University of Miami. That’s right, Johnson had a better year than Clinton Portis, Edgerrin James, Willis McGahee and Ottis Anderson had.

His quickness, elusiveness and ball-carrier vision will make him perfectly capable of succeeding at the next level. Man, this kid is going to make some NFL team very happy because of his versatility, and I can see him putting up Pro Bowl numbers as early as his second year. The only problem is that he likely won’t make it to the Giants in the third round. I say third round because I view linebacker as a bigger need, so if Perryman is on the board when New York picks in the second round, I expect them to pull the trigger.

Speaking of Denzel Perryman.

Perryman is the more realistic option, and he would help the Giants immensely, even if he doesn’t start in 2015. Perryman was a Butkus Award finalist in 2013 and 2014. He’s coachable and extremely aggressive. Perryman does a great job of flowing to the ball. He’s great in run support, and he can fend for himself in coverage. Although Perryman is only 6’0″, he plays like he’s about six inches taller. If you don’t believe me, go check out some of his hits. The smart, savvy Perryman has all the intangibles to offer a lot to an NFL team.

His ability to fill gaps and make tackles is really remarkable. It’s easy to see why the U gave him the same number Ray Lewis and Jon Beason wore. Actually, Beason’s presence on the Giants is another reason why Perryman would be a perfect fit for Big Blue.

These two have more similarities than sharing an alma mater. They’re both so good at doing what they’re supposed to do, and they’re both leaders. Leadership isn’t a quality that can be measure, but the Giants certainly look for it. That was apparent last year as five of New York’s seven picks were team captains in college.

Ideally, Beason is the perfect guy for Perryman to learn under. If the Giants don’t want to throw Perryman in with the starters at the beginning, that’s fine. Let’s face it, as much as Giants fans – myself included – like Jon Beason, he is not the long-term answer at inside linebacker.

Here’s the issue with Johnson and Perryman, though: New York probably won’t be able to get both. Is it possible? Yes. Is it likely? No.

With Johnson being ranked as high as the third-best running back (per Walter Football), and Perryman projected as a possible first rounder (second round at the very least), it’s possible one of them slips to the second round, but there’s no way the Giants can nab both Hurricanes without trading up. Johnson or Perryman slipping to the third-round almost certainly won’t happen.

Ok, I acknowledge the fact that I’m a Miami fan, so seeing two ‘Canes on the Giants would make me very happy. With that being said, I do think acquiring Johnson and Perryman would help the Giants from day one, and I do honestly think there’s a slight chance it could happen.

The lone silver lining is that the running back has kind of lost its value since the NFL has transformed into such a pass-heavy league. This year’s running back class is very strong, so there is a slight, slight chance a team won’t want to reach for Johnson in the second.

Here’s an example: in 2012 I viewed Lamar Miller as a second-to-third round talent, but he ended up going in the fourth. Although he wasn’t incredibly sought after like Trent Richardson (remember when teams wanted him?), Miller was the fourth-ranked running back behind Richardson, Doug Martin and David Wilson. The players that went before him were all ranked lower by NFL.com, so it’s not completely out of the realm of possibility to see Johnson slip. Granted, Miller, although exceptional at the U, did not break records like Johnson.

The two players would be two more young, gifted players for the Giants to build around.

As previously mentioned, Jon Beason isn’t the long-term answer at linebacker, and Rashad Jennings isn’t the long-term answer at running back either. The Giants running game lacks diversity (as I’ve talked about before), and they need a change-of-pace back.

Jennings will be 30 next year, and he can’t seem to stay healthy. Pairing Andre Williams with Duke Johnson would give the Giants the foundation for the future.

Duke Johnson would be another piece of a promising offense with names like Odell Beckham, Rueben Randle, Larry Donnell, Weston Richburg and Andre Williams. Perryman, on the other hand, would join young studs like Kennard, Johnathan Hankins and Damontre Moore.

While getting both of these players is likely nothing more than a good idea, drafting only one of them would bolster the Giants immensely.

Drafting Duke Johnson and Denzel Perryman would give New York its third-straight stellar draft class as the team continues to head in the right direction.

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Several Future NFL proCane Draft Projections

The highest-rated prospect is Ereck Flowers, UM’s former left tackle who skipped his senior season to turn pro. WalterFootball is high on Flowers, projecting him ninth overall to the New York Giants and the second offensive lineman taken. A website called Great Blue North Draft Report believes Flowers will go 14th to the hometown Dolphins. Flowers is projected 21st overall by CBS Sports’ Rob Rangand by FootballsFuture. CBS’ Dane Brugler projected Flowers 30th to Denver.

Perryman is a projected as a first-rounder per Sports Illustrated, the 21st overall pick. He also snuck into the first round of WalterFootball.com’s latest mock draft, going 30th to Denver.

Duke Johnson was a second-rounder on WalterFootball’s four-round mock draft, going 45th to Minnesota. WalterFootball listed third-round projections for Dorsett (82nd to Houston) and Walford (87th to Pittsburgh).

Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller has Flowers, Perryman and Johnson as second-rounders.

The website DraftTek did a seven-round mock draft that included eight Hurricanes, led by Perryman (second round, 42nd to Atlanta). Flowers (65th to Tampa) and Johnson (73rd to Atlanta) were third-round picks. Also projected to be drafted: Walford (fourth round, 125th to Green Bay), Gunter (fifth round, 132nd to Oakland), Dorsett (seventh, 194th to Tampa) and Pierre (seventh, 212nd to Philadelphia). The site also listed junior Tracy Howard (sixth, 183rd to Pittsburgh), who has not declared for the draft.

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Six proCanes Projected in First Four Rounds of 2015 NFL Draft

The 2015 NFL Draft is still several months away, but with the Miami Hurricanes’ season complete it can’t hurt to take a peek at some of their intriguing pro prospects.

The Canes might’ve finished the season with a subpar 6-7 record, but it appears there’s a solid crop of incoming NFL talent coming out of Coral Gables. Six players are projected to go in the first four rounds, according to CBS Sports rankings, which is run by NFL Draft Scout.

Rounds 1-2: Ereck Flowers, Offensive Tackle
Round 2: Duke Johnson, Running Back
Rounds 2-3: Denzel Perryman, Linebacker
Rounds 2-3: Clive Walford, Tight End
Rounds 3-4: Phillip Dorsett, Receiver
Round 4: Ladarius Gunter, Defensive Back

It also wouldn’t be a surprise to see a player like Dorsett, blessed with superhuman speed, climb up the draft boards after what should be a dynamic performanceicon1 at the NFL Combine or Miami’s Pro Day.

Defensive end Anthony Chickillo, center Shane McDermott, and offensive guard Jon Feliciano are projected to go in the sixth round or later, while many scouting services expect 9-10 Canes to get drafted overall. In Todd McShay’s first mock draft on ESPN, he projected both Flowers and Perryman to go in the first round.

For comparison’s sake, projections were pulled for in-state ACC rival and powerhouse, Florida State. They’re expected to have 10 players go in the first four rounds, but this figure assumes undecided underclassman Eddie Goldman, Ronald Darby, and Roberto Aguayo declare for the draft.

So although the Canes aren’t expected to churn out quite the same quality and quantity of NFL players this season as the Noles, talent is not as much of a scarcity as Miami’s 6-7 record would seemingly indicate.

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