Any decent offense needs a running game to be able to punish defenses and take the pressure off the quarterback. We’ve previewed the Gators’ quarterbacks and wide receivers/tight ends battles, and now it’s time to preview the running backs:
Synopsis: Florida loses Kelvin Taylor to the NFL, but there’s still plenty of potential in the backfield. The #JordanSquared tandem of Jordan Cronkrite and Jordan Scarlett showed real promise in the limited carries they got last year. Now prized JUCO back Mark Thompson has been added to the mix. All three are very hungry, and all four are very, very tough runners. Thus, prepare yourself to witness perhaps the most bruising (and effective) overall ground attack the Gators have had since the 1980’s.
What to watch for: Mark Thompson has two strengths that are almost never seen in the same body; he’s fast as hell, and he’s strong as hell. Good luck tackling him. As a new face in Gainesville, he’ll almost certainly start behind the two Jordans on the depth chart, but it would not surprise me in the least if he leapfrogged them both by the spring game. His development will hinge on how fast he learns the intricacies of the Gators’ offense, but his incredible natural athleticism makes him the ideal SEC back.
Dark horse: Lamical Perine is likely headed for a redshirt when it’s all said and done, but don’t count him out of the 2016 equation quite yet. The younger cousin of Oklahoma star Samaje, “Baby Perine” brings shiftiness and more than adequate speed to the table. And don’t be fooled by his 5’11 frame; this kid packs quite a punch. Now, will he overtake Cronkrite and Scarlett in the pecking order? Probably not, but it’s definitely worth watching Perine this spring to get a look at the future.
Projected starters: RB1: Jordan Cronkrite, RB2: Jordan Scarlett. That’s not to say that Mark Thompson won’t get his fair share of carries, but Cronkrite quietly emerged as the Gators’ top returning back with a solid 2015 campaign and Scarlett showed his promise with a 60 yard run against Georgia. Both Jordans know the offense already, which gives them a leg up, and once Cronkrite gets out of Jim McElwain’s doghouse and lays off the weed, he and Cronkrite could become a dangerous one-two punch.
Summary: The Gators shouldn’t have any problems at this position. Between Scarlett, Cronkrite, Thompson and if necessary Perine, Florida’s got a deep stable of backs to choose from. The only possible reason this unit wouldn’t have a big year as a whole would be because the offensive line lets them down. Hopefully that doesn’t happen, and thus, we see for ourselves what these guys can do.