GAINESVILLE, Fla. — New Florida running backs coach Greg Knox is getting to know his personnel, observing the guys going through offseason conditioning and getting ready for the true evaluation period that will come in spring practice.
But his sense is that veteran running back Jordan Scarlett is still working his way back into form after missing all of last season due to a suspension that ended last month.
“Hard to tell. I’ve been around him for about a week and a half watching him in workouts. It’s hard to say where he’s at because I don’t know where he was,” Knox said. “He looks like he’s still developing. He’s getting himself, I could say, back — look[s] like he’s getting back to working out again and in a regular routine. …
“I do know he’s a tremendous athlete and there’s a lot of good things he can do, so I’m looking forward to working with him this spring.”
Scarlett led Florida in rushing in 2016 with 889 yards and 6 touchdowns on 5 yards per carry. There were times that season when his physical, yards-after-contact production was the only thing the Gators had working offensively.
Heading into his junior season last year, he seemed like a strong candidate to push for 1,000 yards and then bounce to the NFL as an intriguing draft prospect.
Everything changed last August when he and eight teammates were suspended indefinitely for their involvement in the credit card fraud saga that hung over the Gators’ season like a dark cloud.
Now reinstated, he rejoins a deep stable of rushers for Florida in 2018.
Junior Lamical Perine led the team with 562 rushing yards and 8 touchdowns last fall, averaging 4.1 YPC. He had rushed for 421 yards as a freshman behind Scarlett.
Meanwhile, Malik Davis was a breakout star as a freshman last fall with 526 yards on 6.7 YPC before sustaining a season-ending knee injury. It remains unclear when he’ll be cleared to return to action.
And sophomore Adarius Lemons and 4-star freshman newcomers Dameon Pierce and Iverson Clement will compete for opportunities as well.
“I hear I got a good room. I think there’s a lot of talent in my room, and again I’m really looking forward to having them on the field and being able to work with them,” Knox said. “I’ve been through a couple of morning workouts with them, watching them perform agilities and certain things, so again just watching them move around in the way they run and move I’m excited about seeing them out there on the field when we put helmets and pads on.”
Knox said he was familiar with Pierce (the No. 8 RB in the Class of 2018, according to the 247Sports composite) and Clement (rated the No. 16 athlete). Both were high-profile recruits that all SEC programs took a look at, he said.
“I tell you what, they work hard. They work with a determination, and I’ve been able to see that so far in just the morning workouts and in the weight room. So really looking forward to those guys,” he said.
Knox spent the last nine seasons as the running backs coach for Dan Mullen at Mississippi State.
They leaned heavily on mobile quarterbacks there, while typically establishing a lead back and a couple complementary rushers.
Last season, the Bulldogs gave Aeris Williams 236 carries, Kylin Hill 78 and Nick Gibson 45. Meanwhile, quarterback Nick Fitzgerald rushed 162 times.
The previous two years, Mullen’s offenses were led on the ground by their quarterback. In 2016, Fitzgerald ran it 195 times and Williams led the running backs with 137 carries while Ashton Shumpert got 55 and Brandon Holloway 50. In 2015, Holloway had 92 rushing attempts, Shumpert 59 and Williams 40 while quarterback Dak Prescott led the way with 160.
Knox was asked how he and Mullen plan to divide carries this fall with so many intriguing options.
“Anywhere from three to four that will be ready to go in the game plan that we’re doing,” he said. “Now, I say three to four, but everyone will be ready to play. If they’re dressing out, they are ready to play in some shape, form or fashion.”
That should lead to some very intense competition in the spring and fall camp as that depth chart is determined.
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