Gators notebook: UF has lots of options at running back

Robbie Andreu
Gator Sports
Florida running back Malik Davis is looking like the 2018 version relative to his production in preseason camp. [UAA Communications photo by Courtney Culbreath]

 Even though Florida's leading rusher the past two seasons, Lamical Perine, is gone to the NFL, the Gators' running back room seems deep and talented — and includes two new additions.

 Miami transfer and former five-star recruit Lorenzo Lingard.

 And Malik Davis — the 2018 version when he was healthy and emerging as the Gators’ best running back.

 "We’ve got a great stable of backs,” co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach John Hevesy said. “Obviously, (Dameon) Pierce is the first one, he’s sort of returning. But I think the biggest one to watch has been Malik. He's been injury plagued the first two years we were here. 

 “When we walked in here a couple years ago, you saw his film from that year before, and say hey here's this guy and I think you're watching during camp. That guy really that we saw two years ago — running how he runs, his pad level, his feet. His quickness and everything he's done, he's done a great job in camp.

 “And then you've got Lorenzo, you've got Nay'Quan ([Wright). So there is a great stable of backs back there. I think the big thing is the group. It's been nice to watch them run the ball.” 

Reese settling in

 Mississippi State graduate transfer Stewart Reese already is fitting in nicely — along the offensive line and as a teammate, Hevesy said. He’s been getting reps at guard and tackle and is UF’s most experienced offensive lineman.

 “He is a very versatile guy,” Hevesy said. “So, he's able to do both, and been playing both, so it's a good thing for us to have.

 “The one thing with him is just bringing in his personality. There's no ego with Stewart at all. He knows everybody, he's friends with everybody, and everybody likes him, so he's going to get along, he's going to take care of his business and do his work.”

Backyard work

 During his four months back home in Bainbridge, Ga., Pierce stayed in shape working out in his mother’s backyard with his younger brothers.

  “At home, I was just in the backyard,” he said. “Most of the time I was with my little brothers. They play high school ball. I was there just showing them that even if it’s time off, it’s not time to be lazy. It’s time to get better. It’s time to work harder. Get you a better edge for the season. As far as location, just backyard, football field, my high school field. Places I worked out in high school.” 

 Pierce said his goals at home were to not to gain weight and work on his pass-catching skills.

“Dealing with all that time off, in terms of weight, I was just trying to keep my weight where it was at when I left so coach (Nick) Savage wouldn’t yell at me too much,” he said. “In terms of things I wanted to work on in my game or tweak, I tried to make sure that I was able to catch the ball out of the backfield and I was comfortable running routes.”

Fresh faces up front

 The Gators’ three true freshmen offensive lineman —Joshua Braun, Gerald Mincey and Richard Leonard — have made a favorable early impression on the practice field, Hevesy said.

 “The first thing is they've all come out and worked every day, and that's the biggest thing,” he said. “They've done a great job, all of them, of getting involved and really not missing a beat. You don't see a big glare. I think when you put them all together you see a little bit of glare, because they're still often trying to figure everything out, but it's really been nice to have all of them.”

 Braun, who is from Live Oak and is the highest-rated offensive lineman in the class, is starting his Gator career off at guard, but he could eventually end up at tackle.

 “He can play tackle or guard,” Hevesy said. “He’s been playing more guard right now. I think it’s a little simpler learning. Playing guard is a little simpler and not as many  adjustments as playing tackle. One thing for him to get comfortable and be able to use his body right now is he’s playing guard. As we progress, he’ll have the ability, obviously, to do both.”