Talent, depth returning at running back

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Rising senior running back Lamical Perine is one of many talented players on Florida's 2019 roster. [John Bazemore/Associated Press]

College football programs traditionally show significant improvement from year one to year two under a new coaching staff.

If that happens at Florida under coach Dan Mullen, the Gators could be College Football Playoff contenders next season after going 10-3 and rising into the top 10 in the nation in 2018.

For it to happen, the Gators will have to improve in some areas and some new, inexperienced players are going to have to come through at certain positions.

Over the next several days, The Sun is breaking down the team position-by-position, one position at a time:

Running back

Who’s gone: Junior Jordan Scarlett, who declared for the NFL draft Wednesday. After being suspended for the entire 2017 season while being investigated for his role in a credit card scam, Scarlett bounced back in 2018, rushing for 731 yards and four touchdowns and averaging 5.8 yards a carry.

Who’s back: Senior and 2018 leading rusher Lamical Perine (750 yards, six touchdowns, 5.9 yards a carry this past season), true sophomore Dameon Pierce (425 yards, two TDs, 6.7 yards a carry), redshirt sophomore Malik Davis, who missed most of the 2018 season with a broken foot, and redshirt freshman Iverson Clement.

Who’s new: True freshman Nay’Quan Wright, who will enroll this summer. The four-star prospect from Miami Carol City is an explosive and elusive runner who could give the Gators a home-run threat in the running game.

What’s next: If Perine returns for his senior season, and all indications are he will, he will have a chance to be the featured back now that Scarlett has moved on to the NFL.

Over the course of his UF career, Perine has evolved into a complete back. More than just an effective runner, Perine also has become productive in pass protection and as a receiver coming out of the backfield.

He played two of the best games of his career in the last two of the season, rushing for 129 yards and a touchdown against Florida State and rushing for 76 yards and a touchdown and catching four passes for 22 yards and a touchdown in the Peach Bowl win over Michigan.

Pierce, who flashed some big plays and big-time potential as a true freshman this past season, appears ready to take the next step and get significant game reps behind Perine.

Davis, UF’s second-leading rusher as a true freshman in 2017, sustained a broken foot in the third game and did not return. He should be 100 percent for the start of the spring and will compete with Pierce for playing time behind Perine.

Clement, who saw practice time at safety last fall due to a lack of depth in the secondary, likely will return to being a full-time running back in the spring. He is a tough, athletic player who will compete for playing time.

Wright, an excellent prospect, will join the competition in preseason camp and give the Gators depth at the position.

Possible scenario: If Perine returns, he’ll have a chance to get maybe as many as 18-20 carries a game as the featured back. But he likely will share reps with Pierce and Davis, because they are proven backs and Mullen insists on having fresh legs in the game at all times at running back.

19 COMMENTS

    • All Hail. Yes, both Perine and Pierce are clearly bruiser type RBs. Harbaugh said that about both Perine and Scarlett before the bowl game. Davis, Clement, and Wright are more the scat RBs. But Perine has also proven himself to be an elusive and explosive runner as well. And Perine, Davis, and Clement are all excellent coming out of the backfield as receivers. But like Lakeland stated above, Havesty has his work cut out for him in building almost an entirely new OL for next year that will be as good as the OL that finished this year. Taylor, Ivey, Jordan, and Johnson will be missed early next season, I believe. Did not see much of Forsythe this year at LT, and that is a concern. And I hope Couriage gets bigger and stronger before next fall as well. And other than a hopefully healthy Heggie (and he stays healthy), who plays at guard? Buchanan proved this year that he can be an effective center and a good communicator at that position. But a lot of development is needed at the other four spots on the OL. A big question mark going into next season and something to watch this spring and summer.

  1. I was watching the HS showcase last night. Saw some prospects we didn’t get playing and while they are 5* and probably aren’t going 100% I think our haul is equally as good. Of course I am not one of the people that determines * ratings and really am not qualified for that (maybe in my own mind). I hope Perine returns but he has 10 days to decide.

  2. Talented group. pierce seems to be able to be productive without blocking, i love that! we will need it next year. i love perine but i dont see him staying, hes really talented.
    lets be careful about the second year leap stuff. its not guaranteed, and usually it involves qb plus keeping the offensive and defensive lines intact, think georgia in 2017. we have some pretty heavy losses in those areas, or a major coaching improvement. i love cdm, but mac won ten games (that hurricane deal took one off of the board but that was not real imo) and two sec east championships before the credit card fiasco, the real improvement happened after they finally admitted the mistake of champ (weve had 3 of 4 10 win seasons since). the vols will be better, fsu as well, and this is a team that lost to missouri, kentucky, and was behind 21 to south carolina, and vandy. jones will give us an effective 3rd option if franks doesnt get better, i agree, but who knows what injuries are coming. the year after next i look forward to, after a miserable (with a few unsustained good performances mixed in) decade for this program, and most of the top 15 overall iconic programs that entered into the decade other than bama.

    • mweal, while i tend to agree with you about Muschamp needed to go, there is no longer any logical way someone can think McElwain was anything but a disaster. His strength and conditioning program alone would have deserved to have gotten him fired. It was obvious to anyone that saw the same players less than one year later during warmups that we had been scammed by a coach that wasn’t ready for a power 5 job.

      • i deserve the chewing out for defending mac, so i understand. ironically i wanted cdm over mac as well. i just promised myself i would support mac, that i was so grateful to finally be rid of champ, who i knew was a poor choice ever since he was part of the guys picking a fight over bama when we had been beaten worse than any game in gator history other than the nebraska game, i knew there were 50 coaches better suited. so i apologize for being blind to mac’s weaknesses. i just look forward to the day that we have all of that completely washed away, i admit i still have some, i promise to try to let it go unless it involves georgia.
        i do see us being national championship contenders in 2020, the pieces will be there, maybe corner will need some ojt, but we should be hell for everyone that faces us (except maybe texas a &m) then and for quite some time afterwards. bama can recruit tua’s brother and bring in several nfl head coaches etc to upgrade their staff, they look weaker to me every time they hit the field.

  3. ”Who’s back: Senior and 2018 leading rusher Lamical Perine: 750 yards, six touchdowns, 5.9 yards a carry this past season.” -Robbie Andreu. So that’s ”set in stone,” Robbie? I sure would love to see #22 (Emmitt Smith flash-back giving) L. Perine come back for his Sr. year in the Orange & Blue. The young running backs will need his Sr. leadership. And the O-line, for Coach Hevesy, will have to rebuild (but that story’s coming here at Gatorsports.com soon, no doubt!). Because without a push by the O-line, no rushing lanes for the great Gator R.B.s in 2019. Then throw in some successful down field passing, and Florida Football could push for another 10 win season, perhaps even more! Go Gators!

  4. Perine is smart to stay another year, and he’s already said he’s returning. No guarantee he will stay, but he doesn’t have great numbers. Don’t misunderstand me, he is a great back! He just needs another year to play up to his potential. I have recorded all the games and watched them multiple times. Perine was a bruiser and ran through a lot of tacklers. He should get more plays next year, due to being better at pass protection.

  5. Mullen has righted the ship, and it’s pointed in the right direction. We finally have a coach we can believe in. Most importantly, we have a coach our PLAYERS believe in! There will be ups and downs as we return to greatness, but 10-3 is a great start! Looking forward to the ride…GO GATORS!!!

  6. There seems to be some uncertainty among the commenters here about whether Perine is definitely coming back. Robbie has it right. Lamical posted his intentions on his Twitter account (@LP_deucedeuce) yesterday saying that he thinks the team has unfinished business and he wants to play one more year with his Gator brothers and coaches.