The Florida Gators lost their starting running back three days before the 2017 season kicked off but they’ve gotten more than enough out of the position.
When Jordan Scarlett was suspended indefinitely just 72 hours before the opening kickoff to the season the entire position was in question.
Malik Davis has been the shining star of the group through four games. The freshman leads the Gators in carries (43), yards (319) and yards-per-carry (7.42). Davis wasn’t highly recruited coming out of high school. Only three SEC schools offered him (Florida, Missouri and Kentucky) and the Gators didn’t get in on him until late.
“This kid is he’s got a chip on his shoulder. He still carries some of that stuff where he feels like he got looked over,” running backs coach Ja’Juan Seider said. “Even getting here, think about when that happened for him, he was like one of the late guys that they went on at the running back position. He carries that chip on his shoulder. Not in a negative way, in a positive way that helps keep him motivated.”
It’s hard to come in and pay right away, especially in a conference like the SEC. Seider credited Davis’ football IQ and his practice habits as the main reasons the freshman has been able to get on the field early. On Wednesday McElwain also impressed on the importance of showing up every day to practice.
“I can’t say enough about it. I think rewarding the play and not just because a guy is established, but actually what you put out there,” McElwain said. “Once the team knows that your performance in practice, your performance in situations is going to earn you more playing time, and there are no favorites. Whoever’s playing the best to help the team win.”
Davis’ emergence has taken carries away from Lamical Perine, who started the first three games in Scarlett’s absence. Davis earned the lion’s share of carries on the road at Kentucky and that led both Seider to have a conversation with the sophomore running back. Seider reassured him as to how he viewed Perine as a running back and that he wasn’t going to be left behind.
“I think he went back and he reevaluated who he is as a running back,” Seider said. “He got back to, it was reminiscent of how he played against LSU a year ago, the way he ran in the Kentucky game a year ago when he wasn’t thinking. I think the pressure was off him for the first time. I think a lot of guys are still feeling like ‘Hey, I have to show I can be the guy that can replace Jordan Scarlett’ instead of just letting the game come to them.”
Seider has been so happy with the way Davis, Perine and Mark Thompson are playing and practicing that he’s even changed the way they rotate within a game. If one of the three gets hot during a game, as Davis did against Kentucky and Vanderbilt, he coaching staff will ride the hot hand. The bigger development here is not feeling tied into traditional roles for each player.
“We’re to the point now where we can start playing these guys, you know, for me, it’s not worrying about when I rotate them or how I rotate them,” said Seider. “You know, you get this guy in for this play, you get this guy in for that play. I think now we can just roll those guys out without hesitating.”