Camp preview: Running backs

The running back depth chart was scrambled at multiple times during the 2013 season, but once Kelvin Taylor got a chance, he didn’t give up the starting job. He’s now set for a breakout sophomore season.

The 2013 actually started with Mack Brown as the starting running back, and he went over 100 yards to start the year. His carries started to disappear the following week when Matt Jones was cleared to play and started the game at Miami. A viral infection limited Jones throughout camp, and he wasn’t the same when he returned.

His season eventually ended to a torn meniscus suffered at LSU, but in the four games he played before the injury, Jones’ only big game came with 176 rushing yards and one touchdown at Kentucky.

When he went down, Taylor stepped in and took off. The freshman ended the season with 508 rushing yards and four touchdowns. His 4.6 yards per carry was the highest of anyone on the team with more than 12 rushing attempts. Taylor handled the first team reps during the spring, and it’s hard to imagine a scenario where fall camp ends without him as the first team running back.

That makes Jones’ position interesting. Will Muschamp said throughout the spring that Florida’s best formation in the new offense included three receivers and two running backs. With that in mind, there will be plenty of opportunity for a second running back to get on the field.

Muschamp also mentioned that Jones could learn the B-position, a hybrid tight end/fullback position that would allow him to use his catching ability to make an impact on the passing game. Even if Taylor leads the Gators in carries, Jones will still have a big impact on the Florida offense.

The ever-steady Brown goes into his final season at Florida likely to see backup duties, but he’s not a normal back. He led the Gators in rushing during three of the first six games last season and is certainly capable of handling the starting duties if the Gators need him to.

The surprise player of the running backs in the spring was Adam Lane. He took a redshirt last season, but the 5-7, 222-pound bowling bowl made an argument for a role on the team with his performance this spring. He stays low to the ground with his size and bounces off tacklers. The Maurice Jones-Drew comparison seems obvious, but after watching him in the spring, it fits.

The issue for Lane now becomes creating a role in a crowded backfield. With his size, he could serve as a goal line or short-yard specialist. However, taking Taylor’s power running style might not be the best idea for the Florida offense. There are question marks about how Lane gets on the field, but if he has a fall camp similar to the level of play he showed in the spring, the coaches will have to find a way to make it work.

Brandon Powell is the only true freshman running back on the roster, and while most don’t expect him to have a role this season, I think there’s a chance he creates one. The Florida staff didn’t have much interest in him until Kurt Roper was hired. That’s when they made a late push for him and ultimately convinced him to enroll early at Florida instead of Miami.

He was a priority for Roper, which should be enough to suggest he sees the field, but he also provides something the rest of the running backs don’t -- above average speed. For as deep and talented as the Gators are at running back, they don’t have a back with game-breaking speed.

It’s a big reason the Florida coaches moved Valdez Showers to running back last season. Even if his role were small, it wouldn’t be a bad idea for Florida to get Powell on the field and utilize his speed out of the backfield.

Mark Herndon was the story of fall camp last year and earned a scholarship. He made an impact on multiple special teams units last year and should be a force in that area again this year.

The B-position has decreased the need for a true fullback position, and both Hunter Joyer and Gideon Ajagbe spent time at the B-position during the spring. Joyer looked like a natural. The 5-11, 232-pounder might not look like a natural pass catcher, but he showed soft hands while lining up some in the slot. He could be a unique weapon for Florida.

The Gators used Ajagbe early in the season and even went to two-fullback sets at some points last season. Ajagbe is different from Joyer since he’s three inches taller and uses his longer wingspan to get his hands on defenders.

Even with the position changes, Ajagbe and Joyer will still have roles on the offense.

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