Head coach Al Golden announced days back that Edwards will miss the entire 2015 season courtesy of what was initially described as a deep foot bruise suffered during a scrimmage back on August 22nd, where x-rays were initially reported as negative.
“Gus worked extremely hard for the last nine months to prepare for this moment,” Golden said in a written statement, as reported by the Miami Herald. “He set a high standard and did a great job leading and being unselfish.
“We are tremendously disappointed for him, but we will be there with him on the road to recovery and anxiously await his return.”
The injury brings in that next-man-up mentality that is such a big part of sports at this level—and in Miami’s case, that might not be the end of the world at the running back position.
There’s no doubt that Edwards’ size and experience would’ve been helpful this season; especially in the wake of the Canes losing Duke Johnson to the NFL a year early. Still, it’s not the first time a starting back has gone down—opening the door for the next Miami great.
Frank Gore suffered one of many career knee injuries before the 2002 campaign got underway, allowing Willis McGahee to carry the load as a sophomore—where he helped lead the Canes to an undefeated regular season and the national title game as a Heisman finalist.
A few years prior, Clinton Portis was getting his share of early carries when starter James Jackson was banged up here and there throughout the season.
While no one is comparing Miami’s current trio of backs to those aforementioned greats, the Canes definitely boast some talent at the position—with some lower depth chart guys primed to get some carries that might not have come their way without the loss of Edwards.
Joe Yearby made his mark as a true freshman last year with 86 carries for 509 yards and a touchdown.
Yearby’s biggest outings came against Cincinnati (eight carries for 113 yards) and North Carolina (22 carries for 104 yards and a score), while his most-memorable play was a 47-yard game-sealing touchdown reception from quarterback Brad Kaaya in the win over Duke.
If there’s any knock on the speedy Yearby, it’s his Johnson-esque size—clocking in at 5-foot-9 and 202 pounds—compared to Edwards’ 6-foot-2 and 241-pound frame.
Yearby certainly isn’t that every-down back, nor is he a short-yard bruiser—which Edwards struggled with at times despite his overall size.
Due to that, Miami is going to have to rely on true freshman Mark Walton as well as athlete and x-factor Trayone Gray, who has become one of those fan-favorite types despite little on-the-field success one year in.
Gray—standing 6-foot-2 like Edwards, though only weighing 216 pounds—had six rushing attempts for 24 yards and a score in 2014.
Originally recruited as a wide receiver, the former high school quarterback from Carol City has the feel of one of those special Miami-bred products ready to break out and do something—barring he can learn the playbook and adapt proper to the position, opposed to just relying on natural talent.
As for Walton, the 4-star prospect out of nearby Booker T. Washington is already pushing Yearby for the starting role as a co-first teamer and is viewed by most as the more complete back.
Walton’s true-freshman label means nothing—both in college football as a whole, as well as in regards to Miami’s depth chart. Three years back Johnson got his first carries in the season opener at Boston College, en route to a 139-carry, 947-yard, 10-touchdown freshman campaign.
While the Hurricanes’ defense was non-existent in the 41-32 road win over the Eagles, The Duke carried seven times for 135 yards and two touchdowns; including a 56-yarder that immediately put him on the map as a big-time back.
Down the stretch in 2012, three 100-plus yard games for Johnson in four tries—including a 16-carry, 176-yard, three-touchdown outing at Duke.
The learning curve for Johnson was far from steep and with less pressure on Walton to perform by way of both Yearby and Gray providing depth, the true freshman could be primed for a breakout season.
While Yearby and Walton getting playing time was a gimme regardless of Edwards’ status—Gray could prove to be the biggest benefactor and bonus from the recent shake-up.
Fourth on the depth chart, carries would’ve been limited but third-string backs are assured to get touches throughout the year—with Gray the type of player that has the potential to break one anytime he gets the ball.
Should things go extremely haywire for Miami, there’s also the break-in-case-of-emergency option that is Dallas Crawford; a senior team captain who has played on both side of the ball, including a stint at running back the past two years.
Crawford shone on the main stage in 2013 when Miami was in a dogfight with North Carolina on a Thursday night ESPN-televised showdown. Johnson left halfway through due to injury and the former safety put the Canes on his back—literally—carrying UM to victory with a career-high 137-yard, two touchdown performance; punching in the game-winner with :16 remaining.
While Miami coaches would prefer to keep Crawford in the secondary, knowing a player with his maturity and versatility is on the shelf if needed—it’s yet one more reason the Edwards injury is easier to swallow.
Miami will open the 2015 season at home this Saturday against Bethune-Cookman at the newly-renovated Sun Life Stadium.
The Canes will then take on crosstown rival Florida Atlantic next Friday night in Boca Raton—giving UM eight solid quarters of football to settle all running back-related roles before Nebraska heads south on Saturday September 19th for a nationally-televised showdown on ABC.
Expect a heavy done of Yearby, Walton and Gray between now and then as Miami’s search for the-next-great continues.