Skipper talks RB development, recruiting

Handling responsibilities as the running backs coach for the first time since 2008, Tim Skipper knows what he’s looking for at the position when the coaches are on the recruiting trail.

His 13-year coaching career has only seen three years of experience coaching running backs. In just those three years, Skipper had an impressive track record at Fresno State. In those three years, he coached five backs that would eventually play in the NFL.

Skipper, who spent his first two years at running backs coach with Jim McElwain as the Fresno State offensive coordinator and the third year with Doug Nussmeier holding the position, recruited the position trying to find an every-down back. He was important in the development of Ryan Mathews, who ended up being the 12th overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft.

“I think you’re always looking for an all-purpose guy that can block and can run,” Tim Skipper said. “Blocking will be a huge part of what we’re looking for also and obviously a guy that can get the ball in his hands and score from anywhere on the field, being able to catch the ball out the backfield.

“As you know with coach McElwain, everywhere he’s been he’s been pretty diverse with everything he’s done. We’re big into seeing what we have and then building off of that.”

Skipper takes over a running back room with different skills. The Gators lose Mack Brown and Matt Jones from last year’s team, and Kelvin Taylor is the most experienced returner. Adam Lane could be the breakout choice at the position after rushing for 109 yards and being named the MVP of the Birmingham Bowl. Brandon Powell is the smallest and fastest at the position, but he could get reps as the slot receiver next season. Former walk-on Mark Herndon also returns after tearing his ACL last season.

With questions about Powell’s position and Herndon returning from surgery, the Gators have only two scholarship players that will be full-time, proven running backs. The Gators will try to add two in the 2015 recruiting class, but regardless of how the recruiting class comes together, Skipper is excited to work with his current group during the spring. For him, it all comes down to the details at the position.

“They think they kind of know about everything about football, and then when you get them you’re like, ‘Alright, which (foot) are you going to step with first?’ And they’re like, ‘I don’t know.’ It’s going to be about the little things and the details that separate a guy from being great and being good, and that’s where I come into play,” Skipper said. “Just helping them get proper hand placement, playing with proper pad level, just putting their face on people, playing physical -- all those little things that a kid doesn’t really think about, he’s just thinking how many touchdowns he’s going to score. The little things are where I come into play and what I’ll harp on.”

The Florida coaches have all made it clear that they don’t know what the offense will look like schematically. They’re focused on recruiting now and will turn their full attention to the actual team after National Signing Day, but Skipper already has a good idea of what his running backs will do under McElwain.

For the Florida head coach, it has always been about using the talent in multiple spots where they are best.

“He likes to use them every single form, shape you can think of,” Skipper said with a laugh. ”Coach Mac, he is very, very creative. You might be labeled as a running back, but you can end up anywhere. You might be labeled a receiver, a quarterback, whatever. Our big thing is we’re going to be in close and tight with these kids. We’re going to find out who does what, and we’re going to let them do that. We’re not going to have somebody do something they’re not very good at. We’re going to play to the strengths the kids have.”

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