CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- Miami running back Duke Johnson has not taken one rep so far this spring, but that hasn’t stopped him from working just as hard as his teammates do during practice.
Johnson has transformed himself in the weight room, bulking up to 205 pounds -- 10 pounds more than a season ago and 25 pounds heavier than he was as a freshman in 2012. The broken ankle that sidelined him for the final five games of last season and spring ball perhaps has spurred a new level of commitment in the weight room.
"He’s done an amazing job with his body," coach Al Golden said. "He’s made a commitment with that. He’s always been really good with blitz pickup and things of that nature, he’s got a great stiff arm. But he’s made a conscious effort to get stronger and bigger and more durable so I’m excited about him."
Golden said Johnson should be ready to go by next month, but there remains a chance he could participate in some spring practice drills in the next few weeks. Of course, Miami already knows what it has in Johnson, who goes into 2014 as one of the top returning players in the ACC. But durability has always been a question, one Johnson worked hard to address last offseason -- when he knew he would be shouldering the bulk of the rushing load.
The ankle injury last November allowed him even more time to work on getting stronger. Johnson said he started working on his upper body strength two weeks after he got hurt against Florida State, trying to use the injury as motivation.
He said strength and conditioning coach Andreu Swasey and his staff came in on their days off to make sure they were working Johnson as hard as he wanted to be worked. The payoff is in the numbers. Not only is he bigger, Johnson can now complete 18 reps lifting 225 pounds. When he arrived on campus as a freshman, he could complete four. The goal is to get up to 20 by the end of the summer. Though he has not run full speed with the added weight, Johnson says, "I feel a lot more powerful and stronger than I did before I got hurt."
"Coach Golden pushed me to take advantage of the opportunity that was presented," Johnson said. "Being hurt was something I never went through. When someone gets hurt to this extent, you don’t look at it as a positive -- but it was for me. It gave me time to step back, to let the other guys show what they can do and to get myself better, to get my weight up, to make sure I know the playbook in and out, get mentally and physically ready for next year, to get everything prepared for my junior year."
What can we expect out of him in his junior season? Golden points to the three games Johnson had before he got hurt.
"It’s probably not as noticeable to people that don’t watch him every day, but the three games before he got hurt, that was a different Duke Johnson," Golden said. "Anybody that looks at it closely will tell you the way Duke Johnson was running late in the Georgia Tech game, the Wake Forest game, North Carolina before he got hurt -- eight carries for 80 something yards -- and then the Florida State game what he was starting to do in that game before he got hurt, he was running at a different level."
Johnson had 325 all-purpose yards against Georgia Tech, 168 yards against the Deacs and 97 against Florida State. Based on the results on the field last fall and in the weight room this offseason, you understand why perhaps the Miami coaches believe, now more than ever, they can get a career year out of Johnson.
Last season, he was on pace for the second-best single-season rushing performance in school history. If Johnson stays healthy, he is a near lock to reach 1,000 yards for the first time in his career. Expectations surrounding Johnson have always been high. But without even one snap this spring, they have grown just a little bit more. Johnson is coy when asked for his rushing goals this upcoming season, but he does admit he has a list of records he can reach taped inside his locker.
"First things first," Johnson says. "I want to help my team win."
As anybody who watched last season knows, a healthy Johnson gives Miami a shot to win plenty.