Editor’s note: This is the first in a series breaking down the 2018 Florida football team.
A preview of the Florida offensive backfield entering coach Dan Mullen’s first season:
The Gators appear to have more potential talent and depth at running back than they’ve had in many seasons.
They have four experienced backs, three who have started games, two who have led UF in rushing the past two seasons, and a third who has shown to be a home-run threat. Add in two highly rated true freshmen who arrived in the spring, and the Gators are six-deep at the position.
Of course, it all starts with junior Jordan Scarlett, who seemed primed to have a breakout season in 2017 before being suspended the week of the opener for alleged credit card fraud. He ended up missing the entire season.
Scarlett returned in the spring and eventually seemed to regain the form he had in the second half of the 2016 season when he emerged as the starting running back and led the Gators in rushing with 889 yards and six touchdowns.
Scarlett is facing plenty of competition in preseason camp.
Junior Lamical Perine started eight games last season and led UF in rushing with 562 yards.
The leading rusher likely would have been true freshman Malik Davis had he not sustained a season-ending knee injury early in the Georgia game. He still flashed some special qualities while starting two games and rushing for 526 yards and two TDs. He’s been cleared for preseason camp.
True sophomore Adarius Lemons, who showed promise in the return game last season and had an 85-yard TD run in a spring scrimmage, is a breakaway threat who also will push hard for playing time and carries.
The two true freshmen — four-star prospects Dameon Pierce and Iverson Clement — benefited from an early arrival in the spring, showing they are capable of making plays. They’re both in the mix for playing time.
It’s been the same for the last eight years, and it doesn’t change this season: the Gators have a big question mark at quarterback, where last year’s starter, Feleipe Franks, will be competing with Kyle Trask and true freshman Emory Jones in preseason camp.
Many assume Franks, who started eight games last season, is the leader heading into camp, but coach Dan Mullen said at the end of the spring there had been no separation at QB, so it’s wide open.
One thing Mullen’s looking for in his quarterback is leadership ability, something Franks has exhibited on the field and in the strength and conditioning program. Now, can he improve on the other aspects of his game, mainly reading defenses, finding the open receivers and getting the ball to them? Those are things he’s struggled with in the past.
Franks continued to be hampered with some inconsistency at times in the spring, but then Trask and Jones did also, although all three QBs showed some encouraging signs.
Still, there are questions and unknowns at the position.
Franks had a difficult season in 2017 and some wonder where his confidence might be if he goes through a bad stretch. Trask has never taken a snap at this level and wasn’t even a starter in high school. Jones is a true freshman who is still trying to grasp the offense.
The feeling is that if quarterback play is improved this season, the offense will be more productive and climb out of its near-decade slump.
Given Mullen’s track record of success with quarterbacks, the Gators are optimistic that this will happen. But until someone goes out there in an actual game and performs at a high level, a big, troublesome question mark will remain attached to the vital quarterback position.
YOUNG PLAYER TO WATCH
It’s probably way too early to try and guess what’s going to happen at QB. One possibility is that Jones, the true freshman, could get a set of plays to run in games similar to what Mullen did with Tim Tebow in his true freshman season in 2006. Jones is the only legitimate dual threat among the QBs, and he seems to have a skill set that would give the offense a definite change of pace.
DON’T BE SURPRISED IF …
Scarlett has a successful season, but comes up a little bit short of rushing for 1,000 yards. With so much depth at tailback, one of the goals at running back will be to keep a set of fresh legs on the field at all times.
There are six tailbacks and only one ball, so there’s a chance Scarlett (and any of the five others) won’t get enough carries to break the 1,000-yard barrier.
“I am (confident we have the guy in this group). We don’t got nobody else coming through that door, so these are our guys and we’re going to get them ready to go out there and compete at a high level and hold them to the Gator standard. That’s what it’s all about. Those guys are eager and willing to learn, and as long as they continue to come out here with that attitude and get better and take steps in the right direction each and every day, we’ll be fine.” — quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson
UF’s projected depth chart
Ranking the SEC backfields
Next Sunday: A preview of the secondary.