With spring practices only a couple of weeks away, it’s time to start previewing what the 2020 Gators might look like position-by-position.
Next up are the running backs. Here are three observations, two questions and one prediction about the group entering the spring.
1. Florida doesn’t have a proven No. 1 running back like they did last year with Lamical Perine. While Dameon Pierce is averaging 5.9 yards-per-carry in his career, for the most part he’s benefited from having Perine and Jordan Scarlett wear down defenses and open things up for him. He doesn’t seem to have the ideal vision or patience to be a workhorse. Malik Davis, meanwhile, struggled mightily with ball security and ineffectiveness last season after back-to-back season-ending injuries. Then there’s Lorenzo Lingard, who battled injuries and couldn’t get on the field at Miami. The general assumption seems to be that this is Pierce’s job to lose. He’ll open the spring as the starter, but this could be one of the best under-the-radar position battles, especially if Lingard is granted immediate eligibility.
2. While they lack a proven workhorse, Florida does have a ton of talent that could complement each other well. Pierce is a bruising runner who can erase any mistakes made by the offensive line. Davis is an explosive athlete who is too talented to average 2.5 yards-per-carry again. Lingard is a blend of the two. If Pierce improves his vision, Davis returns to his pre-injury form, Lingard looks like the five-star prospect that he was and the offensive line improves, this could be one of the most dynamic running back trios in the SEC.
3. One of the biggest keys for this group during the spring should be to improve as receivers and blockers. None of the top three guys have been asked to do either of these things much in their careers, and Perine left huge shoes to fill in these areas. Perine wasn’t very effective as a runner due to the offensive line, but he still had a positive impact on the offense due to his catching and blocking. There’s a decent chance that the offensive line struggles again this season, so the running backs need to prepare themselves to affect the game in ways other than running the ball.
1. Will Davis bounce back? He played way too free and loose with the ball in 2019 and seemed a bit gun-shy in his return from injury. He seemed to go down on first contact way too often and didn’t exhibit the same elusiveness that made him a rising star as a freshman in 2017. Can he return to his old self, or this just who he is now? The Gators really need him to have a strong spring, particularly with Lingard’s status for the season in limbo.
2. Where do Iverson Clement and Nay’Quan Wright stand? Clement only carried the ball seven times in his first two seasons, and he spent part of the 2018 season working at safety. Wright was a top-300 recruit, and he seemed to pass Clement on the depth chart late last season, receiving 12 carries throughout the season. Do either of them have a chance to crack the rotation, or will they be relegated to the scout team again?
1. Pierce, Davis and Lingard will split first-team reps fairly evenly in the spring, leaving the competition open entering the fall. All three possess skills that can greatly help this team, and all three have weaknesses that will keep them from staking their claim to the starting job in the spring. This will be one of the biggest position battles of fall camp.