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Miami opens spring with one big surprise

Miami has an unsettled quarterback situation this spring, but the biggest question that must be answered is whether its defense can make giant strides from where it has been the past two years.

To that end, the Hurricanes made one position switch that caught many off guard. Running back Dallas Crawford opened spring at safety, a surprising move on the surface. It was Crawford who stepped in and started when dynamic back Duke Johnson went down last season, and ended up rushing for 12 touchdowns and 558 yards. With Johnson and early enrollee freshman Joseph Yearby out this spring with injuries, the natural assumption was that Crawford would take reps with the first team.

Instead, Crawford is on the other side of the ball. In the short term, there is not much depth at running back this spring. In the long term, however, this could be the best move for the Canes. Johnson is expected back in the fall and will be the workhorse back this team so desperately relies on when he is healthy. Crawford is as tough as they come, but there was a drop off in production once Johnson was sidelined with his ankle injury. Gus Edwards and Walter Tucker will get the bulk of the reps this spring, and if Yearby is as good as advertised, Miami will have at least four quality backs in rotation without Crawford.

Miami has a much more pressing need in the secondary, and especially at safety, one of the biggest weaknesses on the defense in 2013. Crawford played defensive back and running back in high school, and spent his freshman year on defense. In fact, he was named Miami's Defensive Scout Team Player of the Year. So Crawford does have familiarity with the position, and he was on board with the change, telling reporters in Miami he would do whatever was best for the team.

Coach Al Golden believes that is on defense. During offseason evaluations, he and the coaching staff kept coming back to Crawford as one of the top 22 players on the roster. They want to get him on the field. So Golden asked Crawford to make the change.

"No matter how many times we cut it, we're always saying he's one of the best 22," Golden told reporters in Miami this past weekend. "We know we can put him back to running back in five practices or six practices, but he's physical, he's always been great on special teams, he's smart, he's tough, and it's something he wanted to do."