POSITION ANALYSIS: RBs Lacking Experience

When it comes to Florida's running backs, there is no shortage of talent just numbers that are fewer than what Coach Urban Meyer would like and not nearly as much experience as the coach would hope for. When you look in the media guide for the Gators' unofficial two-deep chart for 2005, notice how it reads DeShawn Wynn OR Skyler Thornton OR Markus Manson.

In the Meyer offense, productive tailbacks are a necessity to produce the dilemma the coach wants for defensive coordinators. Defend the run? Or defend the pass? Florida has the receivers to cause sleepless nights for opponents. Now the question is will the tailbacks step it up to provide the running threat and the balance that Meyer likes? If they can do their part, no defense will be able to key on one phase of the Gator offense or the other.

DeShawn Wynn

Wynn has the most experience of any of Florida's running backs. He showed on one play against Miami in 2003 that he can be a game breaker, ripping through the Hurricanes' vaunted defense for a 65-yard touchdown run. He gained 540 yards in 2003 on 115 carries, but in 2004 he managed only half the carries for 217 yards, a major disappointment. He's a fourth year junior now and he needs to step up his game to fulfill the potential everyone saw when he ran for 2300 yards as a high school senior in Cincinnati, Ohio. At 5-11, 230, he's the big back in the Florida offense but he has the speed to go with the power. What he needs to do is step it up in two-a-days and prove he's the go-to guy at tailback.

For Wynn to become Florida's dominant running back he might have to find a way to stay in the good graces of the coaching staff. Wynn was dogged by Meyer early in the spring but in the final few practices, the coach was far more praiseworthy. However, Wynn did miss the Orange and Blue spring game for undisclosed reasons. In the months since, Meyer has continually singled out Wynn for being a workout warrior. I had a chance to see Wynn briefly this summer and he looks chiseled like I haven't seen before. If he stays out of trouble it will be hard for anyone to beat him out as the starter this year.

Skyler Thornton

The only other back on roster with any experience is true junior Skyler Thornton. The Georgia native comes in to the 2005 campaign with a little over 250 career total offensive yards and a healthy 4.9 average yards per rush. The 5-11, 209-pounder is a versatile back that can catch the ball out of the backfield and run with power between the tackles. He started last season a little heavy and lost the weight as the season went on. Thornton is a workingman's running back, never afraid of contact or tough yards inside, but also with enough speed to take it outside.

Markus Manson

When Florida raided the state of Alabama for Markus Manson (recruiting class of 2004), it was a major coup since Manson grew up in the shadows of Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa. He redshirted last year but it was in the Orange and Blue game in April that he finally got to show Florida fans why all the hype when he was heralded as one of the truly outstanding recruits in 2004. Since earning a 4.0 GPA in the spring, Manson has been the toast of Meyer on the Gator Gathering tour. He's proven he can do it in the classroom and now he has the chance to prove it on the playing field.

For most of the spring, Manson was running behind the second unit offensive line so he was unable to show much. In the spring game, however, with solid blocking in front of him, he turned in 68 yards on 13 carries, showing moves and elusiveness. Manson has the ability to make a defender miss and accelerate into full gear within one or two steps.

One of the real question marks is true freshman Kestahn Moore. Moore is listed at 5-10 and 205 pounds. The Texas native was quoted several times in recruiting stories as saying he would be playing the slot position, which in this offense is more of a running back/receiver or H-back as it has been called. Moore actually played quite a bit of the same position in high school where his team ran the same style of offense so he should be rather adept at catching the ball, Yes, he rushed for over 1200 yards, but he was also the leading receiver in a spread offense for his Arlington (TX) Mansfield Summit team. I look for Moore to get a good look at the H-back position, but with the depth issue at running back, he needs to be able to run the ball from either spot.

The lack of depth at running back is actually quite scary for a team that claims to be a power running team. Gator fans need to hope the new toughness that is being instilled in the team particularly takes hold at the running back position because all four will need to stay healthy. The talent is there for good things to happen if the Gators can keep their tailbacks on the field and out of the training room.

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