Crawford adjusting to safety for Miami

CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- Duke Johnson and Dallas Crawford sat in the same room together last week just like the good old days, when they both played running back for Miami.

Do they miss the camaraderie they once shared together in the same meeting room? Absolutely. But they also understand why they no longer play the same position. Crawford was moved to safety this spring in an effort to improve the Miami secondary. Despite having a running back shortage this spring -- Johnson is out as he rehabs a broken ankle -- coaches believe the move will be for the best when the season opens. The opportunity to get the best out of Johnson on offense, and the best out of Crawford on defense, was simply too enticing to pass up.

Crawford conceded he "had a feeling" he was going to be moved even last season, when he filled in for Johnson as the starting running back in the final six games and led the team with 12 touchdown runs. When pressed why he believed that, Crawford said he did not have a tangible reason. Perhaps it was because Miami needed more help in the secondary than at running back. Perhaps it was because Crawford was initially recruited to play safety.

Whatever gave him that feeling, Crawford was prepared when coach Al Golden asked him a few months ago to make the move. Since then, Johnson has watched his close friend attentively from the sidelines during each practice to date.

"He’s looking like Dallas from high school," Johnson says.

"We played against each other in high school," Crawford interjects.

So what type of hitter was Crawford in high school?

"A big hitter," Johnson says with a grin.

"I couldn’t catch him, though," Crawford says. "I caught him one time. And that was the last time."

It is now his job to catch runners like Johnson, and to deliver the big hits -- as opposed to taking the big hits. Though he does miss playing running back at times, Crawford says, "I like safety. I feel like I’m a natural-born safety." He studies or watches tape whenever he has free time, and that has helped him feel more comfortable. On Day 1 of spring ball, Crawford felt like he was "swimming in the playbook." Now, he has it down.

Much of that has to do with the extra time he has spent with defensive backs coach Paul Williams, who also happened to be his lead recruiter out of high school. Crawford did play safety his redshirt freshman season but was asked to move to running back the following year. He agreed because he wanted to get on the field. Now that he has come full circle, the playbook is not as foreign as it would have been had he come in with no experience on defense at all.

Still, Crawford needed to nail down the concepts. When he feels he has a learned a particular alignment, he and Williams watch the specific play on tape to reinforce it.

"He's made us tougher," Golden says. "He’s a very physical player. He’s learning fast. He’s got to be studying all the time because he’s not a guy making a lot of mental errors. He’s got urgency about him."

The end goal, of course, is for Crawford to emerge as a starter.

"The reason we gave Dallas the opportunity to come over was for that," defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio said. "You look at Dallas Crawford, and when you start to count them up, he’s probably one of our best 22 players on the team. Let’s give him a chance to compete for that starting opportunity. You need to play four guys at safety at least, and he’s definitely created a competition. He’s got everybody’s attention."

Including his former partner in the backfield.