Updated at 7 p.m.
The departure of Adam Lane will not make a huge dent in the Florida Gators’ offense as it heads toward a potential rebirth under head coach Jim McElwain, but it does create another depth question for Florida as it enters the 2015 season with a couple positions that could use experienced, productive bodies.
While the running back situation does not rival problems at offensive line and linebacker, the Gators are far from “pretty stocked” at the position. In fact, you could say Florida’s shelf is relatively bare, with one brand-name product and a couple of new labels still hoping to earn market share.
The brand name, of course, is junior Kelvin Taylor, a legacy who joined the Gators with plenty of hype but has only flashed to this point.
Take his 2014 season as an example. Taylor picked up 565 yards and six touchdowns in 12 games (two starts), though one-third of those stats came in a single contest when he gained 197 yards and scored twice against Georgia. Two more touchdowns came in Florida’s opener against Eastern Michigan, meaning Taylor crossed the goal line just twice in the other 10 contests.
Of course, it is hard to put the entire onus on Taylor for his production when the Gators’ offense was one of the worst in the nation. Still, expectations are high for the only experienced veteran in the position group, who teammates and coaches are waiting on to have a breakout season.
“I really liked what he did in the spring and obviously there’s going to be opportunities there the way we play running backs,” McElwain said, “[but] I’m not a believer in one guy carrying it 40 times. … I think you have to develop the position.”
Added offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier: “It’s difficult to go through seasons playing one back. We’re going to need contributions from a couple of guys. We have high hopes for Kelvin. He had a good season last year; we want to see him build off that. Looking forward to him having a good camp and having a big, big year for us.”
And that’s where Lane’s departure will leave a hole for Florida. A bowling ball-style runner, Lane was a nice change-of-pace back who proved he could at least be an effective member of a committee.
Taylor said Wednesday that while he will miss his friend, Lane’s exit only means the onus is on him to step up his game to a higher level. “It’s not a difference,” he said. “It’s just going out there every day to practice just focused like every day is a game out there. … My personal opinion, every time I touch the field is like a game to me.”
Instead of Lane, with the Gators still planning to use three running backs in every game, McElwain will have to count on a pair of freshmen in Jordan Scarlett and Jordan Cronkrite to carry the burden.
“We’ve been happy with their progress,” McElwain said of Scarlett and Cronkrite. “For them, the real test comes in that first scrimmage [on Friday] just to kind of see, because let’s face it, [on] scrimmage day the speed of the game kind of picks up a little bit and not necessarily the coaches sitting out there and spoon-feeding you on every play.”
While Taylor offered praise for both players – calling them “willing to learn,” “very coachable” and “very humble” – he was a bit more effusive in his praise for Cronkrite
“Jordan Cronkrite, that’s my boy right there. That’s my little man. He’s going to be really good,” Taylor said. “He’s ready. I like him a whole lot. He listens. He’s a great young man. He’s going to be a nice one.”
Outside of those three, Florida will look to redshirt senior walk-on Mark Herndon, who drew plenty of praise – as well as a scholarship – from the previous staff and appears to be on McElwain’s good side as well. Of course, while Herndon may be a capable stop-gap as a third or fourth rusher, it’s obvious that Gators have found themselves in a situation where an already-thin unit is getting even lighter.
Though McElwain does not want to rely too heavily on one back, he is aware that he’ll have no choice if the two freshmen do not develop quickly enough. The goal is to put the ball in the hands of a fresh, effective player in the fourth quarter of each game, but it may occasionally get to the point where he needs to settle for the latter and worry less about the former.
Taylor hopes to be that back for McElwain, but if he’s not, he plans to do whatever he can to help Scarlett and Cronkrite be ready for the big stage.
“It’s up to me to encourage my guys and get them to play at the highest level. I’m just going to keep working hard with those guys and encourage those guys to be the best running backs they can be,” he said. “If I see something that they probably could correct, I’m going to coach them up on it and that’s about it.”
Bits and notes
» You could say junior wide receiver Demarcus Robinson is pleased with the new coaching staff and Florida’s offense under McElwain and Nussmeier. “I love it. We have a lot of new throwing plays, a lot of new down-the-field plays. Coach McElwain gets the ball to me, so I’m loving it. … He’s creating offensive plays for me to get the ball and make plays.”
» Junior cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III is working at kick and punt returner in fall camp. McElwain is not concerned about him potentially being injure don special teams; instead, he points out that Hargreaves has so many talents that it would be silly not to utilize more of them. “I think that’s just a highlight of one of his skills,” he said. “Your ability to be an explosive playmaker in whatever way it is, to help the team be successful. I tell them, ‘You’re a starter on special teams first before you’re ever a starter on offense or defense.’”
» Nussmeier on the offense still having a long way to go: “We haven’t arrived in any one area. I’ve never seen leadership or quality of play be determined by someone’s age. It’s what you do when you get out there. We’ll create our own identity with what we put on the field.”
» Nussmeier is excited about the potential of sophomore offensive tackle David Sharpe, who has basically locked down a starting position on the outside. “A big man. David has done a really good job. He’s a very, very athletic guy. He had a great basketball background. I really believe he is starting to really develop into a really good football player. Each and every day he does something a little better than he did the day before. I’m really excited about seeing him progress. Looking forward to him having a big year for us. He’s done a really good job with his work ethic, his dedication in the weight room with Coach [Mike] Kent. We talk a lot about consistency and performance and dedication, that’s what you look at with great players and great teams. That’s what they have.”
Photo Credit: Stephen B. Morton/Associated Press