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April 15, 2014

Spring Recap: The Backfield

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SPRING BALL: O&B Debut: Breakdown II | O&B Debut: Breakdown I | Take 5 | Spring Practice Central

Throughout the week, ITG will recap the spring by looking at each position and how it evolved over the better part of the past month. Today, we begin by inspecting the backfield.

OVERVIEW: Jeff Driskel heard all the criticism he received after throwing two interceptions against Miami one week before breaking his leg and ending his season prematurely. He feels it was deserved, a reminder of what comes with the territory of playing quarterback at a major college program. He also believes he would have silenced that criticism had he been allowed to play the rest of the season.

In many ways, that's a key factor in how one feels about the prospects of Florida's 2014 season: whether or not Driskel's ceiling is high enough to help a new offense reach its potential. This spring, he had moments of brilliance but he also had the usual lapses - overthrown deep balls, hesitation in his release, eyeing down receivers.

Certainly the talent I around Driskel to help him reach his potential. Florida's running backs stable doesn't include a true game-changer, but it goes four-deep with players plenty capable of contributing significantly. The question will be how many carries will there be to spread around in an offense that will still be based around the run even if it is out of shotgun?

The newest wrinkle is the "B" position, an H-back type that is difficult to classify because everyone from fullbacks to tight ends to larger receivers to Matt Jones is being considered for it. It mostly factors into the passing game, though Will Muschamp has discussed the appeal of having a three-receiver, two-back base offense to maximize team strengths on the field.

THE STANDOUT: Every running back on Florida's roster had his moments this spring. The group as a whole was impressive, which is all the more reason Kelvin Taylor stood out as the declared No. 1 tailback. Taylor was at his best in 2013 when he was allowed to create and cut in space while running out of shotgun. Unsurprisingly, he had a successful spring doing just that. He may not get the "feature back" title used under Brent Pease, but Taylor will be a major asset.

THE SURPRISE: There has been plenty of unknown around Adam Lane since he was first offered by Florida. A leg injury kept him out for an entire year of high school football. A redshirt season in 2013 made some wonder if he would get lost on the depth at Florida. If he doesn't see somewhat significant carries in 2014, it will be to the detriment of the Gators' offense. Lane is incredibly difficult to tackle at a stacked 5-foot-7, 222 pounds. He led the spring game with 12 carries and was better than expected in pass protection as well.

DISAPPOINTING: It would have been nice to see the future of the quarterback position treated as such. Will Grier was forced to split second-team snaps all spring with Skyler Mornhinweg, a redshirt sophomore who proved in 2013 his future at Florida should involve little more than holding a clipboard. This isn't to say Grier was vastly superior. While he is clearly the more talented player, Grier was green enough to avoid creating major separation between himself and Mornhinweg. But some decisions must be made with the future in mind. Grier should have received the vast majority of Mornhinweg's snaps this spring in order to improve.

QUARTERBACK
Jeff Driskel

B-

Timing is key for Driskel this off-season. He simply has to get better at getting rid of the ball in less than three seconds, throwing receivers open and trusting in the designed routes. His legs will be key in the fall, but he has to look to pass first.

Skyler Mornhinweg

C-

It wasn't a horrible spring for Mornhinweg, but it is difficult to take him entirely serious as an option when the team essentially had to abandon the passing game during his tenure as starter last season. If all goes well, he should be fourth on the depth chart in fall.

Will Grier

C+

There were certainly bad moments during his appearance in the spring game, but his quick-release approach is perfect for Kurt Roper's offense and allowed him to get in a rhythm throughout the game. His deep ball is the best on the team already.

RUNNING BACK
Kelvin Taylor

A-

His straight-ahead speed isn't the kind that breaks open games, but Taylor's vision and cuts are what will make him a big-time college football player. Allowing him to get out on the edge and make his moves is ideal.

Mack Brown

B

Every time it seems fans are ready to move on past Brown, he does something to remind you his carries can still be valuable. In an offense that doesn't require bruisers at running back, Brown showed some flashes this spring of solid value.
Matt Jones

INC

His fall knee injury kept him out of spring camp but what will be most intriguing going forward is where he fits in position-wise when he returns. Muschamp wants Jones to continue to get carries but his receiving ability could make him a huge candidate for the B, where the Gators are still looking for an answer.

Adam Lane

B+

Defenders have said since Lane arrived that he's the hardest player on the team to tackle. We got a first-hand glimpse at why this spring. Lane barrels through runs, constantly churning forward and pushing through tacklers.

Mark Herndon

B

Quick and shifty, Herndon made some of the biggest highlight runs of the spring but missed the last week of practice when he rolled his ankle the Saturday before the spring game. It will be interesting to see how serious coaches view the former walk-on as a contributor.
FULLBACK
Hunter Joyer

B

There is still room for the "traditional" fullback role in Roper's offense even though it has shifted to a wide-open spread attack. Then again, Joyer's role could be more about slipping into the passing game in unexpected moments as he did a few times during spring.

Gideon Ajagbe

INC

Tight ends and fullbacks have been merged in some regards into the B position. Ajagbe worked at it for a few practices but had his spring cut short because of injury.



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