The position should be a strong one for Florida. All three returners that will work out this spring saw an ample amount of playing time on the field in 2016. They each had their big moments and each have areas that they need to work on. There is a new coach at the position in Ja’Juan Seider and he has already said he loves what his guys bring to the table. It is time to take that next step this spring.
Senior Mark Thompson was a mixed bag of tricks last year. There is little doubt that he is athletically gifted, but he has to be better at attacking the line of scrimmage and not shaking and baking too much in the backfield. Once he gets moving he is a load and can make people miss, but his big body type screams that he should run hard to the hole first. His other issue is fumbling the ball. We saw it too many times in practice before the season and then it carried over into games. That has to stop. Thompson played in 12 games and recorded four starts as a junior in his transfer year from junior college in 2016. He also had 68 carries, 299 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. He was responsible for the play that broke open the Outback Bowl win against Iowa when he caught a short screen that went for an 85-yard touchdown. It was the second-longest passing play in UF bowl history.
Junior Jordan Scarlett was the starter for most of the season and should have bene the starter throughout 2016. If so, it is more than likely he would have eclipsed the 1,000 yard mark and as it is, he ran for 889 yards and six touchdowns on the season. You won’t find a harder runner in college football and a guy that consistently gets to the hole in a hurry. He has had some long runs in his time, but if there is a knock on Scarlett it would probably be the number of really long runs. This writer believes they will come a little more often this year as the offensive line starts to mature in Gainesville and there are more chances to beat that second and third level defender than he has seen in his first two years. If you take into account that 588 of his 795 rushing yards during the regular season came after contact, the fact that the contact should happen less often at near or behind the line of scrimmage should go a long way in paving a big season for the Gators’ junior.
Sophomore Lamical Perine surprised many with his ability to run the ball in 2016. He also shined on special teams a couple of times returning kickoffs. Perine has good size and with the number 22 on his chest, he has a running style similar to another number 22, Gator Great Emmitt Smith. Nobody is going to confuse Perine for Smith just yet, but he runs low to the ground and can carry people for yards down the field with the power in his legs. He cuts well on the run, but it is his power and vision that make him a very good running back. At over 220 pounds, he has the size to be durable if called upon to do so. He is a guy you can insert into the game at any time and feel comfortable with it. As a freshman, he was second on the team with 421 rushing yards and he caught nine passes for 161 yards as well showing his ability in that regard. He topped the 100 yard mark twice as a freshman in 2016.
Maybe we got spoiled with Jake McGee back in 2015, but the tight ends just didn’t seem to live up to the billing in 2016, just not what we expected. It is a physically talented group, but they each have their flaws. This is the time of year to work through those.
We’ve seen enough of senior DeAndre Goolsby to know he can be a big time pass receiver down field. While the number of catches for Goolsby went up from 17 to 38 between the 2015 and 2016 seasons, the production per catch went down. He was more of a short yardage receiver last season when he could be best utilized down field. That likely isn’t his fault. However, he does need to work a great deal on his pass protection skills. He will be realized upon at times to be a pass protector in the offense and as the season progressed it seemed to get worse for him. Goolsby has 619 career receiving yards and four touchdowns, all in the last two years. We know he can get it done.
Redshirt Junior Cyontai Lewis started 11 games in 2016 and again in his two years on the field has displayed the ability to make plays down the field. Despite his lack of overall size, Lewis has shown to be the most dependable blocker up front. He actually relishes that role. He can stretch a defense and has accounted for 22 receptions for 259 yards and 4 touchdowns in his two seasons on campus.
Redshirt junior Moral Stephens needs to make a move this year if he is going to. This will be his fourth year on campus and his third spring. He has the size and athleticism to be a very good one, but he hasn’t shown it in practice enough to be given the opportunity to shine. Stephens may be the fastest at the position and he has bulk as well. There is no reason he can’t break out.
Freshman Kemore Gamble may be the most athletic of the bunch. He just arrived on campus in January after graduating early from high school and is bigger than most know, listed currently at 241 pounds. If he can pick up the blocking techniques, he will be a difference maker at his position at Florida sooner rather than later.