Image Credit: UAA Communications/Tim Casey
How do you replace a 1,000-yard rusher whose 13 touchdowns were the most by a Florida Gators running back since his legendary father 18 years earlier?
You don’t, at least not with one person.
As the Gators look to fill the hole left by the departure of Kelvin Taylor, who dominated work in the backfield during head coach Jim McElwain‘s first season in 2015, the realization has been made that no single player on the roster will be able to eliminate the void on his own.
According to McElwain, that’s not a bad thing.
“We’ve got four backs. You know, I’m not saying we got the best back by any stretch of the imagination – one guy, say, in the SEC – but I will say we have a cumulative group of four guys who can really play,” the coach said Wednesday during a South Florida speaking engagement.
Sophomores Jordan Scarlett and Jordan Cronkrite will likely lead the charge, but junior transfer Mark Thompson and redshirt senior ex-walk-on Mark Herndon are expected to see plenty of snaps as well this season.
“[Cronkrite and Scarlett] have grown up; in fact, you wouldn’t even recognize really when they were freshman to where they are now,” said McElwain.
Though Scarlett outgained Conkrite 181-157 on the ground last season, Cronkrite was given more carries (44-34), scored two more rushing touchdowns (3-1) and took six receptions for 89 yards and another score.
It is Cronkrite’s versatility and steady improvement that earned him first-team running back duties at the 2016 Orange & Blue Debut.
Thompson looks every bit the typical big SEC back at 6-foot-2, 242 pounds. It’s his tendency to play with his pads too high – plus a potential concern of his fumbles in the spring game – that’s keeping him behind the two younger players at this time.
Herndon has been a favorite of multiple coaching staffs, which is how he moved from walk-on to scholarship player. A stacked depth chart and injuries kept Herndon from seeing more consistent action, though McElwain, offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier and running backs coach Tim Skipper have all spoken highly of him and mentioned that he’s in the mix to get touches this season.
So while McElwain does not believe the best running back in the SEC is on Florida’s roster, he’s happy to stack the Gators’ four-man unit against any other in the league.
“The guys are not afraid to go run out there on an SEC schedule and play it,” he said.