Photo: Lorenzo Lingard; Credit: Alex Shepherd
Spring practice is in the rearview mirror and we’re stuck in football purgatory, the summer months before fall camp begins and the season kicks off.
This means it’s the perfect time to analyze the Florida Gators’ roster in-depth as we prepare for Billy Napier’s first season as UF’s head coach, and AllGators is doing so by asking three questions about every position on the roster after watching each unit thoroughly throughout the spring.
We’ve already covered the quarterback room and will continue on the offensive side of the ball, posing three questions in need of answers by the time the season gets underway at running back.
Here are three questions about the Gators running backs entering 2022.
Who will emerge as RB1?
Three running backs saw significant action throughout the spring: Redshirt senior Lorenzo Lingardredshirt sophomore Demarkcus Bowman and sophomore Montrell Johnsoneach player a former transfer.
Lingard was typically the first running back on the field with the first team in practice, but his spring game action was limited due to an injury. Johnson and Bowman were mixed in heavily as well, and both earned ample opportunities in the final team scrimmage.
Johnson, who played for Napier at Louisiana as a freshman and earned Sun Belt Freshman of the Year honors along the way, appeared more comfortable in the offense by posting an efficient 4.2 yards per carry and scoring a touchdown with the first team. Bowman, with the twos, led the team in scrimmage yards with 79 but fumbled twice, once on a carry and another on a return.
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Considering his experience in the system and showing spring game, Johnson appears to be in the best position to start when the season begins. Lingard could pose a threat with a strong fall, however, and so could redshirt junior Nay’Quan Wrightwho missed most of the spring as he’s been recovering from a season-ending leg injury in 2021.
How deep will the rotation be?
Although there will only be one running back to receive the first snap in week one, you can expect the Gators to rotate aplenty at the position given the amount of talent in the room.
“What we want to do is we want to try to play multiple guys,” UF running backs coach Jabbar Juluke said in March. “We want to play multiple guys and make sure that we have competition every day … So it’s not I’m going to play one guy over another. I’m going to play the guy that practices the best that’s consistent at doing the things that we’re asking him to do on a regular basis. “
As described above, UF’s running back room is legitimately four-deep on potential contributors, and that does not even include incoming freshman and highly-rated recruit Trevor Etienne.
It’s very unlikely that four or even five running backs will consistently earn meaningful snaps throughout the year, but three would be plausible. UF utilized a three-man rotation under Dan Mullen last year, although the way carries were seemingly randomly split rather than sticking with the hot hand created frustration across the UF fanbase, see the “Feed Dameon Pierce“movement.
How much will the rushing scheme change?
While this isn’t a question specific to the running backs, it will obviously affect the position greatly. Under Mullen, the Gators almost exclusively based their rushing offense on zone concepts, but with Napier in charge, we should expect a healthy mix of zone and gap / power concepts where blockers and rushers will play vertically and stay in between the tackles.
Johnson, a big-bodied bruiser who has a knack for shedding tackles, is a perfect fit for a power-heavy scheme, while Lingard and Bowman appear best suited for zone, one-cut-and-go concepts out of the backfield. Wright could reasonably handle both styles of play, although he does not necessarily excel at any one skill as a balanced back.
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