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Miami's Duke Johnson, Denzel Perryman among nation's best

Phil Sears / Associated Press
Running back Duke Johnson claims to be faster, despite adding 20 pounds to his 5-foot-9 frame.

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Miami (Fla.) running back Duke Johnson and linebacker Denzel Perryman have a lot in common.

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Both starred in high school in Miami and stayed home for college. Both are prime All-ACC contenders and among the top players nationally at their positions. And both have been dinged for their size: Perryman has heard criticism of his height and Johnson has heard criticism about his weight.

Actually, they have something else in common, too: They said Sunday at the ACC Kickoff media event that they use the criticism as motivation.

Johnson -- who led Miami's Norland High to a state title -- is a 5-foot-9, 206-pound running back who says he has gained about 20 pounds this offseason to combat his critics. Perryman -- who starred at Coral Gables High, about 10 minutes from UM's campus -- is a 6-0, 242-pound linebacker who ... is stuck with being a 6-footer. Their size never has hampered them, though.

Johnson has rushed for 1,867 yards and 16 TDs in two seasons; he missed five games last season with a broken ankle suffered in a loss to Florida State. Perryman, who is moving to middle linebacker after playing on the outside in his first three seasons, has made 240 tackles and 17.5 tackles for loss in his career; he is known for his big hits.


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Johnson said he has been able to add weight without losing any of his speed. In fact, he said, "I'm faster than I was." And he was plenty fast already. His career per-carry average is 6.6 yards, and he has had nine runs of 40-plus yards, 12 of 30-plus yards and 17 of 20-plus yards in his career.

He said he added the weight for extra durability as well. Miami's quarterback situation is such that Johnson will be the unquestioned focal point of the offense, and he said he thinks he could handle 25 carries a game if it came to that; he fully expects at least 20 per game.

Johnson grew up a Hurricanes fan, and given UM's history of great running backs, Johnson's favorite 'Cane has to be a running back, right? Nope.

"Sean Taylor," he said.

Johnson played both running back and cornerback in high school, and while he always has liked running back, he said he loved playing cornerback. Indeed, though he should be an early pick whenever he enters the draft, he said he sometimes wishes he still played defensive back.

There is no such confusion for Perryman, who loves playing linebacker because it lets him get his aggression out. "When I get to the ball, I get there with bad intentions," he said.

He played at the same high school as former UM star linebackers Jonathan Vilma and Daryl Sharpton -- but that wasn't always a good thing. Perryman said his high school coach, Joe Montoya, often would bring up Sharpton and Vilma, as well as Perryman's brother, Quintero Frierson, who played at Rutgers.

"He'd say, 'Vilma wouldn't have done it that way.' Or, 'Your brother would've done it different,'" said Perryman, who might be the best inside linebacker in the nation.

And Perryman said that while he always has liked watching Vilma play, he doesn't want to be the next Vilma. "I want to be better than Vilma," he said.

Mike Huguenin can be reached at mike.huguenin@nfl.com. You also can follow him on Twitter @MikeHuguenin.

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