Joseph Yearby declared early for the NFL draft. Gus Edwards transferred to Rutgers. Trayone Gray is coming off a torn ACL. Robert Burns is recovering from a shoulder injury.
In other words, it’s a good time to be Travis Homer.
The University of Miami running back depth chart opened up like a gaping hole in the defensive line and Homer, a sophomore from West Palm Beach, is taking full advantage. He has solidified his position as the Hurricanes’ No. 2 tailback behind starter Mark Walton.
Asked if Homer is the clear No. 2, UM offensive coordinator and running backs coach Thomas Brown said: “Right now he is. There’s no question.”
Because the Canes were deeper at running back last season, Homer, a compact runner known for his breakaway speed and reliable hands, spent his freshman year almost exclusively on special teams. He recorded eight tackles and had a fumble recovery. As a back, he had seven rushes for 44 yards all season.
This year, he is pumped to play a bigger role. And Brown expects him to be ready.
“Huge improvement from Year One to Year Two,” Brown said of Homer. “He was good enough to play last year, but we just had a little more depth with a couple of guys left, one went to NFL, one that transferred on us. But he’s going to make a huge impact. He’s gotten bigger, stronger and faster. And he’s always been a tough kid. So, I’m excited for what he’s going to do this year.”
Early in his high school career, Homer, who is 5-11 and 195 lbs., was being recruited by the likes of Temple and Western Kentucky, and wasn’t on the radar of bigger-name schools. One reason is that he played for Oxbridge Academy, a newer program that didn’t have much tradition. But by his senior season, Homer had caught the eye of Miami, Alabama, Auburn, Florida, and Florida State.
He runs the 40 in 4.48 seconds, and in high school had back-to-back games of 148 yards rushing against American Heritage and 173 yards against DeLand. He comes from an athletic family. His father, Keith, played football at Dillard in Fort Lauderdale. His brother, Tevin, played cornerback at Florida Atlantic and is in camp this summer with the Washington Redskins.
Homer said after practice Wednesday that he is ready for the pressure that comes with being one of the top two running backs on the Canes’ roster.
“My mindset is I know that I have to come in every day to take on that increased role and do what I can for the team,” he said. “I am definitely more comfortable reading the defense now.”
Brown said Homer’s improvement over the past few months is very apparent.
“He has a better understanding of the offense, understanding of how to use his body better, how to protect himself from hits and finish better,” Brown said. “His knowledge of pass protection has grown, which is probably the hardest part of playing tailback when you come from high school to college, coming into a pro-style system that’s going to run seven or eight drop-back protection, play-action protection.”
Homer had eight carries for 55 yards in the scrimmage last week, and a fumble he’d rather forget.
“Of course, a fumble is going to bother everyone, but I just need to keep my mind clear and just stay high and tight,” Homer said.
Asked whether Homer’s fumble concerned him, Brown said, “He doesn’t have a history of putting the ball on the ground.”
Homer and Walton are different types of runners, and that will give the Hurricanes attack some variety.
“Mark has more wiggle to him,” Brown said. “He’s also got some straight-line speed. Travis is more of a one-cut, downhill guy, plays bigger than his size. Doesn’t shy away from contact. No softness in his heart at all, which is one of the biggest redeeming qualities for a tailback because you can be the flashiest guy, the fastest guy, but if you’re soft it’s going to be hard to get on the field playing with us.”
Although Walton and Homer are the leading backs, Brown said he is optimistic about Gray, the biggest runner of the group (6-2 and 235 lbs.), who played in his first scrimmage after his return from injury.
“He looks better now than he did before he got injured,” Brown said. “I still think he has a hip mobility issue at times, being able to bend and get low. He’s obviously the biggest guy in my room, tallest and weighs the most. He’s definitely healthy enough, confident and continues to make progress every day.”