Spring Forward: The Backs

Less than two weeks away from the start of spring ball, we continue our preview of the spring roster for Florida Gators football. This time we will look into the backfield and although not completely healthy, it is a much more complete bunch than the linebackers. With junior Matt Jones the only one missing, the running back position will get a lot of work.

Outside of quarterback, the running back position may have the most to learn with the new offensive scheme that Florida is going to install in 2014. Kurt Roper's pro-spread means the backs will be working more in space and likely asked to catch the ball and pass protect more than they were asked to do before. Those changes could have a big effect on who actually sees the field the most.

Junior Matt Jones is still recovering from double surgery on an MCL injury and one that is going to continue to raise questions about when he will actually be able to return. Jones is a guy that has picked up pass protections pretty quickly and also a guy that has been known to excel at catching the ball. Now he will be playing catch up with the rest of the crew.

We have further confirmation that Valdez Showers (JR) will have more of a role as a receiver in 2014 than at running back… at least that is the plan going into the spring. That leaves five players for the spot with varying degrees of specialty for the position.

The lone senior in the bunch is Mack Brown. The never assuming Brown has a career total of 710 yards rushing with four touchdowns. Of that, 545 yards and all four touchdowns were amassed last season. Brown has had a terrible time getting on the field due to learning pas protections, but he made great strides last year. He certainly has had to learn a lot in his time on campus and maybe all of that experience will pay off. Not a game breaker of any kind, Brown may be the most reliable back on the roster when it comes to getting the short yardage gain. There is no more loyal player on the squad than Brown and he will be happy to do whatever is asked of him.


Brown

Mark Herndon (JR) earned a scholarship last fall, but never really saw meaningful action a year ago. In his short stint on the field and in practices leading up to the season Herndon seemed to show some spark as a runner. It wasn't enough to get on the field, but another year on campus and he will have the experience of repetitions from practice.

The lone sophomore in the bunch is Kelvin Taylor, who returns as the starter from the end of last season. Taylor finished with 508 yards and four touchdowns a year ago and should have had much more. He struggled early doing the things that didn't involve carrying the ball, but got off to bad start in the fall by fumbling a few times early in drills.

By the end of the year there was little doubt that Taylor was the best back on the roster and the guy that could produce for them on offense. Despite a struggling offensive line and going against defenses that knew Florida couldn't throw the ball late in the season, Taylor still averaged 4.6 yards per carry.

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This time around he will be pressed to do more of the pass protection duties and he will have to show that he can also catch the ball out of the backfield. These are traits he never had to show in high school, so this spring is big for Taylor.

From what we have heard, expect a dogfight from Adam Lane (R-FR), who signed in the same class as Taylor a year ago. Lane has been a warrior in the off-season spending extra time both in film sessions, in the weight room, and during unscripted practices with the players. He wants it and has the attitude to reach some heights in his second year.

Lane missed his junior year of high school due to a broken leg, but before and after the injury he showed burst and the ability to hit the long run. If he can do that at this level it bodes well for him, especially in this more wide open offense. Do not be surprised if lane is the starter when spring drills get underway because of his excellent work in the off-season.

The most intriguing running back this spring may be true freshman Brandon Powell. Powell arrived in Gainesville in January fresh out of high school and definitely has the game breaking speed they want and need in the Florida offense.

The thing we don't know about Powell is his ability to pick up pass protections. He came to Florida with the ability to catch the ball and do something with it. He really could be an immediate change up to whoever starts and shows a real possibility of getting on the field early.

The Gators have two scholarship fullbacks on the roster and both are seniors. Hunter Joyer and Gideon Ajagbe both have a chance to start, but it remains to be seen just how much they will be inserted into the offense. Given the experience, especially of Joyer, it would be hard to imagine that he doesn't find a niche in the offense, even if it means as a single back at times.

Ajagbe has shown he can be a reliable pass catcher out of the backfield, and Joyer hasn't been that bad himself. It is hard to call it a position of strength with the questions about how much they will play, but the fullbacks should be reliable when inserted.

The Bottom Line: Every player at running back and fullback that will be playing in the fall will be available in the spring, unless Matt Jones can make it back. The thing to like about the group is the versatility. The thing that could be lacking is the one guy out on the field that doesn't have to leave the field at some point to make things work. Maybe Adam Lane could be that guy… that is to be determined. Maybe Taylor can show he can be a reliable pass catcher /protector and he won't have to leave the field in long down and distance situations.


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