Jim McElwain has been impressed by several position groups this spring, however, there is one group that he deems as the most competitive so far.
"I think the most competitive, I still go to our running back group," said Florida's head coach.
The Gators are returning plenty of depth at the position with Jordan Scarlett, Mark Thompson and Lamical Perine returning to the fold - while Malik Davis and Adarius Lemons will join them in the summer.
“Of course I’m going to say the running backs are the most competitive because I am a running back, but everyone’s competitive and that’s what you need on a good team is everyone to push each other," said Thompson. "If you’re not the starting guy, you should be working harder than the starting guy.”
“All of us want carries, man. I feel like that’s going to better us every time," added Perine. "One of us is going and we gotta motivate each other to keep on pushing because we feel like we’re the drive on the team. We’re the offense. We gotta make plays.”
“At running back we have big-time playmakers," said Perine. "And at receiver we have big-time playmakers. The level of competition is all the way up there, man. As a team, you can’t ask for nothing better with us getting better.”
With Thompson it was about getting his life in order and growing up.
"Just staying out of any type of newspaper article," he said. "If it’s anything negative, just positive vibes, positive things all around me and doing the right thing at all times.”
Last season Thompson was suspended for a marijuana citation and missed UF's game against Georgia in Jacksonville. The running back called it the lowest point of his career, and he does not want to repeat that experience.
“Not being able to play in that game really hurt,” Thompson said. “It really made me realize, ‘Hey, I’m not doing the right thing. Let me step back, really re-evaluate everything I’m doing and stay on the right track.’
“I was at home watching it and that was the worst feeling to have. Putting myself in that position.”
He has now focused all his attention this offseason to make sure he can contribute.
“Coming off the ball, making big plays, lowering my pad level. And just being a better team player. No matter if I’m being vocal or not, it’s going to inspire other people to do the right thing.”
Meanwhile Perine's first year in Gainesville was about adjusting to college football. Perine finished second on the team with 421 rushing yards on 91 carries, averaging 4.6 yards per attempt. However, after standing out during fall camp, Perine was worried he had ruined his chance at playing time with his first play as a Gator.
“Like I wondered how my season is going to end up, man. I didn’t know what to expect. I was nervous. I didn’t think I was going to play anymore during the season," said Perine about his fumble on his first carry on the first drive of the season opener against Massachusetts.
"But the week after I just came in, pushed myself in the weight room and worked hard in practice and came back and did pretty good.”
“It’s all about technique with Coach Seider," said Perine about the new running backs coach. "Even when you make a big run it’s the little details that he teaches and I feel like as a group we’re good and we build off that everyday. After we make mistakes we go in the film room and build on it, try to get better.”
It is no secret that the Florida offense struggled many times last season, however, both Perine and Thompson are confident the group has made a lot of strides this offseason.
“I feel like we have a lot of chemistry this year," said Perine. "We have a lot of returning starters. I feel like we just gotta keep the chemistry good.”
“I believe we do have a chip on our shoulder, we’ll work on that as we’re doing this Spring," said Thompson. "You’ll see the results this Fall. We’re gonna score a lot of touchdowns.”
According to Thompson, his confidence in the offense is down to one position group.
“The O-line is being more dominant, more physical up front," said Thompson. "They’re really establishing the line of scrimmage. The running backs are running very hard, and you know it’s a competitive group in there. Same with the wide receivers and quarterbacks, all the same. Everyone’s just competing, and it’s showing in these practices so far. What was it, practice 6? It was very competitive.”
Both Thompson and Perine graced the field for Florida for the first time last year; this year both running backs are ready to use the lessons they learned last year on the field for the Gators this fall.
“I had some hiccups learning, not only football but things off the field as well." said Thompson about last season. "I could have had a way better first year in all aspects of being at the University of Florida."
“I feel like it was pretty good," said Perine about his first year. "I feel like I had a lot of big plays I missed out on this year. I just feel like I came back this offseason a little stronger and a little determined to get better.”
Prior to the season Thompson made a prediction that he would have a 1,000 yard season, however, only recorded 299 yards rushing.
“I would say last year did motivate me and humble me," added Thompson. "Because I made some predictions, I said some things. I was saying a lot before even stepping on the field. So like you said, yes it humbled me a lot. And this year like I said I’m just looking forward to my (inaudible sorry) of senior year and I will have a lot of focus.”