The Florida Gators will begin their season on Saturday and in their offensive arsenal is a ground attack like no other.
"I really like the group," said Florida assistant Tim Skipper. "Bunch of good guys that are very talented. They all have their own little special things that they do. I'm really enjoying working with them and I'm looking forward to watching them play."
UF does not have a feature back, but it does have five running backs that could feature when the Gators open their season against UMass.
"When you're recruiting or building a team, you're trying to get as many guys as you can that can help," said the running backs coach. "I think that's what we've done under coach Mac [Jim McElwain]. This is year two, I think we've really addressed the running back position. I think we have multiple guys that can help us. Just more weapons that we can use at any point in the game. And they can do a lot of stuff now. Everybody just talks about their running, but they can receive, they're good pass-protectors. So we have a lot of options."
"When we're practicing it's not like only this back can do this," he said. "I mean they all can do everything that we ask them to do. There's some special packages that they all could do, but obviously we have one guy to do it. They're all pretty multi-talented. We don't have any issues as far as this play is only for this guy, this next guy can only do this one. We can throw them in there. So that helps also if you get that injury bug come up that you have guys that can step."
According to Skipper, he will determine how to distribute carries after Thursday. Scarlett and Thompson are expected to be the ones to lead the pack.
“Jordan Scarlett had a great camp,” he said. “I think he’s put on probably about 10 pounds of muscle - looks great, might be even faster...He has a better understanding of our offense also. You can see he doesn’t have that little hesitation in his step running the ball. I think he’s really comfortable in what he’s doing.
“(Thompson) had a real good fall. I think he’ll tell you this, when he was in here in the spring it was a culture shock to him, just the pace of practice and how serious it is and how organized it is and all that. It was a different game. Now he can get through the whole practice.”
Despite Cronkrite's injury during scrimmage earlier this camp, Skipper says he is confident that Cronkrite will feature in the opener.
"He practiced yesterday [Tuesday] and it was full throttle, full pads and he did every drill. It wasn’t like he had to stand out in certain stuff. He went live all the way through. So, really good shape there.”
Even if Scarlett is your debut back on Saturday, Skipper admits that might not always be the case every game.
"Every week it’s going to be, hey, this is the best plays, who does these plays the best. It’s competition every day," he said. "Today is going to be more competition. We haven’t done the first play of the game. We haven’t talked over it yet. Once we get to know in practice, that’s when we start making all those crucial decisions. That’s going to be every game before we get to Wednesday.”
The Freshman Surprise?
Perine was not actually a surprise if you ask Skipper, "we recruiting him for a reason."
The true freshman has shone during fall camp, and has earned some reps with the ones.
"I'm very pleased with him," said Skipper. "The thing I like about him more than anything is he's a freshman but you wouldn't know it. He attacks the day. He's not afraid to go in there. He works and works and keeps working. Most of the time freshmen in training camp, they hit that wall. He never really hit that wall. He got stronger as he kept going. So I'm really excited about the things he did."
The New Guy
There is a lot of buzz around JUCO transfer Mark Thompson. Thompson joined the Gators in the spring, but it was not until the fall that things began to really click from the running back.
“He’s had a real good fall," said Skipper. "I think he’ll tell you this, when he was in here in the spring it was a culture shock to him, just the pace of practice and how serious it is and how organized it is and all that. It was a different game. Now he can get through the whole practice. Last spring I’d get midway in practice and, ‘Coach, get me out of here a little bit.’ Now we don’t any of that concern. And he’s leaned out a little bit from when he first got here to now. I expect big things from him. He’s in good condition now. And he’s a good receiver too for a big guy. He has real soft hands, big hands. I expect big things from him.”
"You know, for me with the o-line, I don't look at individuals. I look at them as five together. Are they gelling together or are they not? I think we're getting to that point where they're all one heartbeat. They're all connected on a string. I think we're getting that. You're seeing the running lanes. Just yesterday was the first day where we actually cut in practice, first time all of fall. You could see it's coming together. It's real nice. I think you're going to see some really good things out of our o-line. Getting Tez back in there healthy because he was out for the whole spring is a big difference. I expect big things."
What does Skipper look for in a back when you're recruiting?
"That's an interesting question. It kind of changes as you go. So last year, when we were recruiting, we wanted to get a lot bigger. So you know you bring in bigger guys. You bring in the Mark Thompson type of bodies. Even Jordan Scarlett is a bigger guy. Then as you look at the group now, what are you going to bring in next? That's kind of what we're looking at. I think as you always start with running backs, you want a playmaker, somebody that can go the distance when he touches it. The second thing and most important thing to some people is his blocking. Is he a tough guy? Can he handle the pounding of the SEC? That's two important things. So playmaking and a guy that can handle the pounding and handle the blocking and protection are the two things that we're looking to bring in."
On Luke Del Rio
"He's a coach's kid, I like coach's kid(s). I happen to be one of them too. I think his No. 1 thing is he knows where to get the ball to. He's very smart, very smart. He can read the defenses, he knows where he's going with it. He has the ability to look one way and come back and throw it to the other side, which I think is a skill in college that's lacking a little bit. He's a really good player. I'm excited to watch him play. It's going to be fun. He's waited a long time, he's had a long journey and I think it's that time, to get here Saturday it's a true blessing for him. So it will be good."