In the lead-up to kickoff against Idaho, I’ll be taking my next few pieces to introduce, highlight, and analyze the groups of players that hold the key between Florida’s return to SEC prominence, or conversely, a banishing to the SEC cellar for 2014.
We move our attention back to offense today with a look at the backfield.
For as much as Florida was known as “Wide Receiver U,” its running back tradition is not too shabby either. With names like Eric Rhett, Fred Taylor and NFL Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith among them, the position has been kind to Gator fans over the years. And, in a preferred “ground and pound” run game that Florida coach Will Muschamp prefers, the running back is designed to shine.
As a true freshman Kelvin Taylor showed flashes of the brilliance that we all came to know and love from his father in the 1990s. In nine games (and only six starts), Taylor totaled 111 carries for 508 yards and 4 TD’s. He is a beacon of hope to Gators fans longing for an explosive playmaker, and enters 2014 with a chip on his shoulder. Taylor figures to be the starter in the opener against Idaho.
Matt Jones looks to return to form after first a viral infection, and then a knee injury limited both his time and production on the field last season. Now healthy, he should be both a reliable backup and an X factor for the new-look Gator offense. Jones can not only play the role of an up-front workhorse, but also as a pass-catcher out on the backfield.
I think more than almost any player, I am excited to see what a fully-healthy Jones can do for the Gators this fall. Ideally, he and Taylor will split reps, giving Florida a perpetually fresh running back on every series. This tandem will rival many other current SEC RB duos, and leave Florida in a position to pound for both yardage and points.
Adam Lane will also battle for playing time this fall in short yardage situations. However, I’d probably bet we will see more of him in 2015 rather than right away – barring an injury fest like we all endured in 2013. Last season’s leading rushing leader Mack Brown returns as well, and will provide the stability and depth that just didn’t exist in 2013.
Last year, Florida was actually somewhat decent moving the ball, as evidenced in the time of possession (which was No. 2 in the country, second only to Louisville). Where they faltered it was usually a confluence of lack of red zone conversions, sloppy turnovers, and poor choices on play calling and execution (flip to:25 for my point to be crystallized). Having someone like Lane or Brown to backup Taylor and Jones will provide the extra “push” that was nonexistent in 2013.
I have not been this excited for a crew of running backs in quite some time. I firmly believe this group will thrive in Kurt Roper’s new offense, put points on the board, balance out a talented defense, and return some favors from last year.