What’s left: Running back

Despite the offensive struggles this season for Florida, the Gators still have talent returning at running back.

Matt Jones led the Gators with 817 rushing yards and six touchdowns during the regular season, averaging 4.9 yards per carry and 74.3 yards per game. His power running style made him more difficult to tackle late in games, and it’s his best attribute as he reportedly leaves school early to enter the NFL Draft.

Mack Brown was fifth on the team with 74 rushing yards in his final season at Florida. Florida’s dependence on Jones and Kelvin Taylor cost Brown carries during his senior year.

The departure of Brown and Jones leaves the Gators with four running backs for next season -- Taylor, Brandon Powell, Adam Lane and Mark Herndon.

Taylor was second on the team with 112 carries for 565 yards, adding six touchdowns and 5.0 yards per carry. His pass protection issues limited his carries for the second straight season, but when he carried the ball, Taylor showed his natural cutting ability and the talent to carry the load for a team’s running game.

Next year, Taylor figures to lead the team in carries and serve as the starting running back. He needs to improve his pass protection and skills catching the ball out of the backfield, but Taylor has the ability to handle 20+ carries a game and be the lead running back.

When he needs a break next year, the Gators have a few intriguing options they can use.

Powell showed speed and elusiveness early in the season, but a hamstring injury held him out of games against Alabama and Tennessee early in SEC play. He ended the year with 16 carries for 72 yards and one touchdown, adding 12 catches for 127 yards. Last week, Florida offensive coordinator Kurt Roper praised Powell’s ball skills.

He could even see time on special teams returning kicks or punts for the departed Andre Debose. Powell has the speed and ability to make defenders miss that the new coach needs to recruit in big numbers. The Gators just don’t have enough of it on the roster.

Lane remains an intriguing option, and with a new coaching staff and the departures of Brown and Jones, he should have a much better opportunity for meaningful carries in 2015. He had eight carries for 72 yards in 2014, with five carries for 60 yards coming late in Florida’s win over Eastern Kentucky.

His bowling ball frame and tough running style has turned him into a fan favorite, but the depth at the position kept him off the field. The team won’t be as deep at running back this season and should provide a way for Lane to get on the field in 2015.

Herndon tore his ACL during the early season and missed most of the year. Assuming he gets a medical redshirt, he will be a redshirt junior next season with two years left. Herndon figures to have a bigger impact on special teams, but he is talented enough to carry the ball if needed.

Florida also needs to add at least one running back in the 2015 recruiting class.


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