Football

Former UM star Duke Johnson aims to impress Dolphins, others at NFL Combine

Miami running back Duke Johnson answers a question during a news conference at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis, Thursday, Feb. 19, 2015.
Miami running back Duke Johnson answers a question during a news conference at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis, Thursday, Feb. 19, 2015. AP

Ereck Flowers had just ripped off 37 impressive reps on the bench press Thursday when he ran into Duke Johnson – the primary beneficiary of his hard work the past few years.

It’s not surprising that Flowers would cross paths with another Miami Hurricane at the NFL’s Scouting Combine; there are eight of them in Indianapolis this week.

“I was very proud of him,” Johnson said of his friend’s feat of strength. “I think that’s a good number for him.”

Johnson, the Hurricanes’ dynamic running back, has a number in mind this week, too. But not on the bench press; he isn’t lifting at the Combine.

He has always been more dash than bash, anyway. He wants to wow scouts one more time with his speed. Johnson wants to run his 40-yard dash “in the low 4.4s.”

If so, there’s no reason to believe that he won’t go in the second round in a few months – and in the process might not even have to change his driver’s license.

Johnson met with his hometown Dolphins on Wednesday night – the first of nearly 20 teams to line up interviews this week.

The Dolphins are clearly in the market for another running back; Knowshon Moreno is coming off a second major knee injury. Yet some speculate they would target a burlier, power back to team with the ascendant Lamar Miller.

But if the Dolphins take Johnson, they’d be doubling down on their strength – and possibly form the fastest backfield in football.

Johnson, who rushed for 1,652 yards and 10 touchdowns his final year in Coral Gables, compared himself to another home run threat during his press availabilityThursday: The Eagles’ dynamic LeSean McCoy.

The similarities between the two?

“His quickness, his burst, his ability to make people miss in the open field and out of the backfield,” Johnson said.

Lance Zierlein, a draft expert for NFL.com, wrote that a better comparison is C.J. Spiller, the Bills’ speedster who scorched the Dolphins in the teams’ first meeting in 2014.

“Lightning in his feet,” wrote Zierlein, who also praised Johnson’s ability to create in tight spaces.

Johnson is a true one-cut and go back, which is just the type of player who thrives in the Dolphins’ zone-blocking scheme.

He does have the misfortune of coming out in one of the deepest running back drafts in years, and his pass protection could use work, Zierlein believes. Those factors – plus the NFL’s recent devaluation of the running back position – will probably keep him out of the first round.

Which means whoever drafts Johnson will probably get a player who’s as motivated as he is talented.

Asked if he is more physical than critics say, Johnson responded: “I am. I think at the end of the day, if there’s short yardage and I need to get it, I am going to get it.”

He added: “Whoever drafts me will get a great player and won’t regret it.”

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