Gators’ camp preview: Running backs

Florida lost its workhorse running back when Matt Jones declared for the NFL Draft, but there’s still enough talent for the position to be productive this season.

Matt Jones anchored the Gators on the ground last season with a team-high 817 rushing yards. Kelvin Taylor was second with 565 yards, but he’s expected to take over the reigns as the offense’s lead back this fall.

Depth isn’t a problem at running back like it is for other positions on the Florida offense. The Gators had enough numbers to move Brandon Powell from running back to slot receiver last season. While they could still motion Powell into the backfield to catch defenses off balance, he won’t carry much of the load at the position this year.

Taylor is the one the Gators need to have a big season. It’ll also be his first chance to start a year at the top of the running back depth chart. The one thing missing from Taylor’s game to be a dominant running back is the top end speed. He can make defenders miss in open space and has good quickness in short areas, but when he gets past the defense, he’s missing the extra gear to take it to the end zone.

The junior can still be effective without it, as he has proven over the last two years. He can move the chains and runs with power, shedding tackles and able to pick up the extra yards.

The breakout star of the Birmingham Bowl was Adam Lane, who ran for 109 yards and one touchdown on 16 carries. The Gators could use a strong fall from Lane, who would be an ideal running back in short-yardage situations because of his 5-7, 226-pound frame. He runs through defenders because of his short, strong build and can look like a bowling ball at times.

Lane missed some time during the spring with injuries, and that kept him from earning a guaranteed role. However, it also hurt the depth of the position as Taylor was the only scholarship running back at times during the spring. Lane is now healthy as fall camp begins on August 6, and the Gators need him to stay that way this year.

While most have seen what Lane and Taylor can do on the college level, that’s not the case with Jordan Scarlett. The freshman from St. Thomas Aquinas (FL) High School wasn’t interested in Florida before McElwain was hired, but the Florida coach’s impressive history with running backs was enough to entice Scarlett to Gainesville.

As a senior in high school, Scarlett ran for 1,124 yards and 24 touchdowns while helped St. Thomas Aquinas win the 7A state title. Selected to the Army All-American Game, Scarlett has the skillset to be an every down running back. He’s 5-10, 198 pounds, big enough to handle the beating a running back in the Southeastern Conference will take, but he also has the speed to break off long runs.

The question to be answered this fall is how Scarlett will be involved on offense. Most of that will depend on how well he performs in fall camp. If he shows the staff he can handle it, Scarlett could begin the year as the second running back behind Taylor. He could even earn more carries than that by the end of the season.

Fellow freshman Jordan Cronkrite ran for 1,405 yards and 15 touchdowns as a senior at Westminster Christian. He could make an impact this fall, but it might make sense for Florida to redshirt one of Cronkrite or Scarlett since Taylor, Lane and even Mark Herndon will also be available at running back.

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