Florida’s search for a number one running back is far from over, but for the time being, two candidates are out of the running, so to speak. Gator running backs Coach Stan Drayton says freshmen Mon Williams and Chevon Walker will be moved to scout team duties. That means the smallest of the six candidates; Brandon James is still in the mix.
The diminutive James who generously listed at 5’7” has been impressive from his first day on the field. He shows no fear in traffic, is elusive and decisive running with the football. He joins Markus Manson, DeShawn Wynn and Kestahn Moore in competition for playing time opening day.
I spoke with Drayton to get his assessment of the position, and the never-ending search for a top flight tailback.
LV: Stan, how would you assess your position as camp reaches the midway point?
SD: We’ve broken out into scout teams right now and I know I have at least four backs that can help us win some games this year. DeShawn Wynn and Kestahn Moore are pretty much the best ones right now. Markus Manson and Brandon James have got to be ready to play. We are still competing; nothing is written in stone. But guys are starting to separate themselves and they’re working their tails off. I’m very proud of them.
LV: Kestahn missed so much during the spring, how has he gotten back into the flow and the competition?
SD: It took a while, and he’s still knocking some of the rust off, but you can see it’s coming on a daily basis. You know, pass protection is the hardest thing for a running back to do. It comes with reps and reps and reps and from a fundamental standpoint he was struggling for a while. The last couple of practices he’s starting to come into his own. He’s practicing with great technique and he’s starting to get physical. I’m just really excited about the progress of Kestahn Moore.
LV: What kind of progress has DeShawn made in terms of effort and focus play in and play out?
SD: Really well. DeShawn’s one of those ‘short burst’ guys. He’s a guy who’s giving me everything he’s got and that wasn’t the case last year. I’ve got to be smart with him; when I see he’s winding down I got to get him a blow (break) and then get him back out there. We’re trying to build that mental toughness and physical toughness in DeShawn. He’s been doing everything that I’ve asked of him. The gains that DeShawn Wynn has made since the start of practice, well actually since the end of spring have been really, really big gains.
LV: Has Markus Manson made significant gains?
SD: Markus is starting to play like he’s a year two player, but there are still some issues with being consistent. He’s still a young player but he’s on board, he’s trying to do everything he can.
LV: What does he have to do to be a tougher player to take down?
SD: He has to learn how to be a physical player. To compete, get hit, get beat down in practice and come back the same day with the same effort. There’ no other way to do it. You get tougher coming out here in this heat. You get tougher by giving great effort every day.
LV: How about the mighty mite? Many of us thought Brandon James was strictly going to be a kick return guy but he’s been pretty impressive as a running back from what I’ve seen.
SD: Well, he’s a typical freshman in that they at some point reach a plateau and he’s on that plateau right now. He hit a wall and he’s starting to mess up on a few plays here and there. Those guys coming out of high school often don’t know how to practice. They’re not used to the tempo at which we do all this stuff, but he’s learning how to do all that stuff. He’s learning the tempo, learning the playbook and as a result he’s playing slow right now. But Brandon is going to be okay; he’s going to help us a lot on special teams and he has to be ready to play out of the backfield so I have four guys I can go to war with.
It’s clear Florida does not yet have a number one back who has convinced Drayton or Urban Meyer that he’s the guy. It is equally clear that Kestahn Moore and DeShawn Wynn have distanced themselves from Markus Manson and Brandon James….. probably by more than those two have moved ahead of Mon Williams and Chevon Walker.
The bottom line is the majority of carries in the Gator offense are likely to go to Wynn and Moore. And the future of the Florida running game is clearly in their hands (and legs).