Hurricanes lose one of their top running backs for the season; another starter to miss at least 3 weeks

By Khobi Price

The Miami Hurricanes have lost one of their top running backs for the remainder of the season, and will be without one of their starting linebackers for at least the next month.

UM coach Manny Diaz confirmed Monday afternoon that Don Chaney Jr. will be out for the rest of the season with a knee injury he sustained in the Hurricanes’ 25-23 win over Appalachian State on Saturday, while Keontra Smith will at least miss the next three games with a leg injury he sustained against the Mountaineers.

Diaz said the Hurricanes hope to have Smith back after the team’s bye week, setting up a possible return for Smith in the Hurricanes’ away game against North Carolina on Oct. 16.

“Keontra was around the knee, but it was a peculiar set of terms I haven’t heard before,” Diaz said. “I wouldn’t do it justice trying to explain what his injury is.”

Both Chaney and Smith were injured in the first half of Saturday’s game and ruled out for the matchup midway through the second quarter.

Chaney, who finished the game with 21 rushing yards on four attempts and scored UM’s lone touchdown of the first half, was seen on crutches and wearing a brace over his right knee on UM’s sideline during the second half.

The second-year tailback had been used as Miami’s No. 2 running back through the first two games of the season behind starter Cam’Ron Harris.

Chaney, a former four-star prospect out of Miami Belen Jesuit who joined UM as part of its 2020 recruiting class, rushed for 322 yards and three touchdown on 68 carries (4.7 yards per carry) last year.

He missed most of spring camp due to getting shoulder surgery on an injury he was dealing with between last season and this past spring. Chaney will finish 2021 with 44 rushing yards and one touchdown on 11 attempts.

“He’s really disappointed, as we all are,” offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said. “We just got him back to full contact about a week before the first game [against Alabama] with his previous shoulder injury. He was really starting to turn it on the other night.

“We were really looking forward to him starting to get to the form we believe and know he can be at. We fully anticipate him coming back better than ever, but it’s disappointing for him. He’s got as good of a morale as you can ask for.”

With Chaney out and fellow second-year running back Jaylan Knighton suspended due to “violation of team rules” for UM’s next two games (home matchups versus Michigan State on Saturday and Central Connecticut State on Sept. 25), the Hurricanes will look for either Cody Brown or Thaddius Franklin, Jr. to be the team’s No. 2 tailback for at least the next two weeks.

Knighton is expected to be available for Miami’s ACC-opener versus Virginia on Sept. 30 at Hard Rock Stadium.

Lashlee indicated on Monday that Brown, a former four-star prospect who was nationally ranked as the No. 13 running back recruit in the 2021 recruiting class by 247 Sports Composite rankings, may have a slight edge in the competition between the two true freshmen tailbacks.

“It’s their time, they’re next men up,” Lashlee said. “When you’re a freshman running back, it’s not just as easy as running the football. You’ve got pass protection involved and a lot of other things that take more time. Running the football is probably the easiest thing they can do. I feel like Cody Brown is in a really good place with all of that. Thad will keep coming as well.”

During the offseason, Smith made the transition from striker — UM’s safety/linebacker hybrid position — to weakside linebacker, where he contributed nine tackles through the first two games as Miami’s starter at the position.

The Hurricanes expect for Waynmon Steed or Avery Huff to replace Smith as the starter for the next few weeks while he’s out.

Steed, a fifth-year out of Miami Central who redshirted the 2017 season and missed the entire 2019 season due to recovering from an offseason ACL surgery, played in seven games and made two starts at weakside linebacker last season. He stepped in for Smith for most of Saturday after Smith exited the game with his injury.

“Coming out of camp, he’s looked better than he has since he’s been here as far as his health,” Jonathan Patke, UM’s inside linebackers coach and special teams coordinator, said of Steed. “I thought he played pretty well when he went into the game.”

Huff, a third-year out of St. Thomas Aquinas, didn’t see any game action during the 2019 season and was mostly used on special teams last year.

“Avery — he’s athletic, he’s long [and] he’s everything you want in a WILL linebacker,” Patke said. “I’m excited to get him in a game and kind of see him in the fire. If he stays in the defense and does what the defense tells him to do, he’ll be so surprised by how many plays he can make.”

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