University of Miami

UM, minus Mark Walton on Tuesday, wants to keep running back rotation tight

University of Miami running back Travis Homer replaced starter Mark Walton (ankle) and scored two touchdowns against the Toledo Rockets at Hard Rock on Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017. The Canes meet Toledo in Ohio on Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018.
University of Miami running back Travis Homer replaced starter Mark Walton (ankle) and scored two touchdowns against the Toledo Rockets at Hard Rock on Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017. The Canes meet Toledo in Ohio on Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018. ctrainor@miamiherald.com

The 14th-ranked University of Miami football team was back home at Greentree Field on Tuesday to prepare for its first road game Friday against Duke, and after being away for three weeks in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, coach Mark Richt said that “the grass looked a lot better.’’

The Hurricanes?

Not so much.

“Today was a little disappointing of a practice,’’ Richt said. “Anything that was competitive, offense vs. defense, I didn’t think the offense came to compete today. It was a little bit upsetting to me.

“Even the scout team work was just kind of lackluster, not great. …I was a little upset with that.”

Star running back Mark Walton, who rushed for 204 yards and a touchdown Saturday against Toledo despite injuring his ankle midway in the second quarter, did not practice Tuesday. But Richt assured that he should be ready for the Blue Devils (4-0, 1-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) in the prime-time showdown.

And Ahmmon Richards, who still hasn’t played this season because of a hamstring pull, did practice, the coach said.

“Mark, we chose not to practice him,’’ Richt said of Walton. “He could have practiced. He will practice [Wednesday].

“I’ve said it before. Unless there’s a setback, I expect both Mark and Ahmmon to play.’’

Offensive coordinator Thomas Brown reiterated Tuesday that Walton is doing well.

“He got dinged up a little bit about halfway through that game and came back and finished,’’ Brown said. “He’s been rehabbing his butt off. I mean, he’s a tough dude.’’

Brown was asked his reaction when Walton went down.

“Obviously, you kind of skip a beat for a second when he goes down and he doesn’t hop back up like he normally does. I just try to control what you can control and pray for the best. I think he does a really good job of …trying to prepare for this violent football game. Sometimes things do happen.”

Duke, with wins over North Carolina Central, Northwestern, Baylor and North Carolina, has the No. 2 rushing defense in the nation, allowing only 65.3 rushing yards a game. UM (2-0, 0-0), with wins over Bethune-Cookman and Toledo, is 11th nationally in rushing (285.5-yard average).

The Blue Devils also are fourth nationally in team sacks, fourth in tackles for loss and 11th in total defense (261.5 yards allowed a game).

Brown, who acknowledged that freshman tailback Robert Burns is healthy enough to play now, said he prefers, for the most part, a two-tailback rotation.

Sophomore Travis Homer came in for Walton on Saturday and rushed for 32 yards and two touchdowns. And Trayone Gray got one carry.

“It’s hard to get more than two guys into a rhythm unless you’re playing 100 snaps a game,’’ Brown said. “There are teams across the country that play four, five dudes. I don’t really subscribe to that as much unless those five guys prove they deserve the right to play and they’re equally as good.

“The guys we’ve got at the top are doing a really good job in practice getting most of the reps and having production. I want those guys to get into a rhythm and feel good and be able to attack a defense.”

Homer said Tuesday that he learned against Toledo that he needs “to slow down and analyze the defense a bit more.’’

Said Homer: “I noticed I was going a little bit fast.’’

Richt is feeling good about the sophomore, who also is a standout on special teams.

“He had some sneaky yards,’’ the coach said about Homer earlier this week on WQAM. “He caught a little snare pass and made about three guys miss. He catches the ball well. He pass protects well. He’s a good runner. He’s starting to finish runs with some power.’’

▪ In other injury news, Richt also mentioned that defensive end Demetrius Jackson, who sat out last game with an undisclosed injury, practiced Tuesday and should “be OK’’ for Duke...The status of safety Robert Knowles, who went into the weight room with Walton while the team was practicing, is also in question. “We’re hopeful for him,” Richt said.

▪ ESPN announced Tuesday that UM’s 2018 season opener against LSU at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, has been moved one day back to Sunday, Sept. 2, at 7:30 p.m. and will be broadcast on ABC.

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