Gators running backs have no problem sharing load
In 2020 the Florida Gators didn't run the ball mainly because they didn't need to. Florida was so good at throwing the ball, that the coaching staff made a conscious decision to abandon the running game in favor of throwing.
"The most obvious argument was why wouldn’t you throw to the No. 1 tight end in the world in Kyle Pitts when he’s an obvious mismatch with him on a linebacker," senior running back Dameon Pierce said on Monday after the Gators' third spring practice. "So why not throw it to 84? Then you have a great quarterback in Kyle who can find the open spot, he can read one defense very well and find the spot. So if we’re moving the ball more efficiently throwing it, why run and not be as efficient on offense?”
Trask and Pitts are moving on to the NFL, currently preparing for Florida's Pro Day on March 31, and the Gators' have a running back room that's more crowded than a New York subway car. Those things, plus the skill set of new quarterback Emory Jones, lead us to believe that the offense will look very different in 2021.
"We are all team oriented man. Whatever goes for the team, we with it, we’re going to go with it," Pierce said. "We’re going to do our part with it in play action, protecting the quarterback, you know we’re going to do our part. We’re going to be happy. We’re all going to reap the same benefits, were all going to get the win man. Everything’s for the win.”
If you're playing to your strengths, you have a loaded running back room and a quarterback that can kill a defense with his athleticism, all signs point towards the Gators going back to the ground next season.
The big question is how do you keep everyone in the room happy? You have veterans in Pierce and Malik Davis, third-year players in Nay'Quan Wright and Lorenzo Lingard, as well as a former five-star playmaker in Demarckus Bowman.
Pierce did his best to describe the five skillsets.
"I'm a power runner, I'm a north and south guy," Pierce began. "Malik's [Davis], you know, he's more pass-reliant, so we might use Malik in the pass game, get him open. Same thing with Nay'Quan [Wright], Nay'Quan kinda like a Swiss army knife. We can throw him in the run game, we can get him behind a couple of linemen, or we can throw him in the pass game, you know? And Lorenzo [Lingard] and [Demarkcus] Bowman come kind of similar in terms of physical assets. You know, they both have great top-end speed and great acceleration, with those guys you want to get the ball, obviously, going north and south."
The challenge for the coaching staff will be how do you keep everyone happy. You can't play all five running backs at the same time. Pierce is taking it on himself to try and shoulder some of that load for the coaching staff. The first thing the coaching staff stresses is protecting the ball and protecting the quarterback. Neither of those things involves actually running with the ball, but if you can't pass block and if you put the football on the ground you're not going to play at the University of Florida. Pierce, to his credit, has been an unselfish player since he arrived on campus and now as a senior is taking more responsibility off the field.
"Being one of the older guys in the room, I’m taking on that leadership role you know. Like for a guy like Bowman in his first year here, how can I help him get more comfortable? How can I help him learn the playbook? How can I get him more involved and more knowledgeable? I have to make sure that he’s ok. If he ain't set, that’s a reflection on me," Pierce said. "That means that’s poor leadership on my end. So basically I just got to make… basically, everybody’s just gotta check everybody. Make sure everybody’s working in the same direction in that room and make sure our common goal is to win consistently this season.”