Managing carries

The talent at running back creates an interesting challenge for the Florida coaches this fall. Kelvin Taylor took over the starting job when Matt Jones tore his meniscus at LSU last season. He looks capable of carrying the load at running back this fall, but a healthy Jones could change that. There are also multiple other capable running backs behind the two.

Heading into fall camp before the 2013 season, Will Muschamp expected Matt Jones to be a 1,000-yard back. He showed flashes of his ability as a freshman in 2012 and looked like the natural fit to take over after Mike Gillislee left. A viral infection slowed his progress.

Jones was held out of a majority of fall camp and returned against Miami during the second week of the year, but he didn't have the same speed or ball security. Florida opened the game with a 26-yard drive that puts the Gators into Miami territory, but Miami linebacker Denzel Perryman hit Jones and caused a fumble, giving the Hurricanes the ball to set up a touchdown drive.

Jones had his best game three weeks against Kentucky, rushing for 176 yards and one touchdown. Two weeks after that, his season came to an end with a meniscus tear at LSU.

It opened the door for Kelvin Taylor's breakout. The freshman ended the season with 525 yards and four touchdowns, averaging 4.6 yards per carry.

Mack Brown also produced out of the Florida backfield, leading the team with 582 yards.

All three players return this fall. Brown and Taylor went through spring drills, and Jones is expected to be medically cleared for fall camp. Those three players would give the Gators a solid trio of running backs to lean on in the fall.

However, there are more players involved this season. Adam Lane took a redshirt last year but showed this spring that he can handle a bigger role. His 5-7, 222-pound frame makes it difficult for defenders to tackle him, and he could provide an ideal threat in short-yardage situations.

Former walk-on Mark Herndon was expected to get carries last season, but that didn't happen even with the injuries. He's an important part on special teams and first-year offensive coordinator Kurt Roper could provide a new chance for Herndon to carry the football.

Brandon Powell was a late addition to the 2014 recruiting class and will provide the speed at the position. Even though some of the veteran players are more trusted with the ball, Powell has the game-breaking speed that could force him on the field as a freshman. He missed spring practice with a foot injury but will be cleared for fall camp.

There was only one defection from the running back position. Valdez Showers spent last season at running back, providing a much-needed speed threat. Powell's addition can serve in that role while Showers slides out to wide receiver this year.

The challenge for Roper is keeping players happy with their role while still getting the best production out of them. Jones and Taylor figure to lead the running back position, and Brown looked step faster in the spring. He's the veteran leader of the position group.

Muschamp said at the end of spring that the offense's most effective formation came with three receivers and two running backs. That opens possibilities for the coaching staff to get multiple backs on the field at the same time, but with six backs that are capable of helping the offense, Roper will face a challenge to juggle playing time and get his best group on the field.


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