Expectations are great for Florida’s offense, particularly if the quarterbacks can play at a high level. About the only question on the offensive side of the ball is at running back where DeShawn Wynn has graduated, leaving a hole to fill. The Gators have one experienced back and several talented players who need a solid spring to prove they can handle the demands of the job.
Wynn was never the spectacular game breaking running back that the Florida staff wanted, but he was reliable when he was healthy. When he wasn’t healthy, it was tailback by committee. Wide receiver Percy Harvin stepped in at tailback and made some huge plays, particularly in the Florida State and Arkansas games, but he was injured and the Gators can’t afford for him to take a pounding. So, this spring Florida will be looking for that back that can carry the ball 15-20 times per game so that Harvin can be spotted in the right situations to maximize his abilities.
Junior Kestahn Moore of Arlington (TX) will most likely get first crack since he has the most experience. Moore ran solid as a freshman but his numbers dipped a bit as a sophomore. He’s had problems holding onto the ball and that’s a no-no with this staff which puts a premium on protecting the football. Moore is not overly big, but he is really strong and deceptively fast. If he cures his fumbling woes he will get a lot of carries I 2007.
Junior Markus Manson of Hoover (AL) is the only other upperclassman in the running back ranks. Manson has been somewhat of an afterthought after being very highly regarded in high school and performing well in the spring of his second year on campus. There has been talk that Manson might get a shot at cornerback since there is little depth at that position and it might get him on the field where he can use his athletic abilities. Still, he has speed and that extra gear when changing directions that a lot of the prime time backs have at the highest levels so expect Manson to at least get one more shot to make it at running back.
Sophomore Mon Williams of Mesquite (TX) put on a show for the crowd against Western Carolina last season. Mostly used o special teams in 2006, Williams showed Neal Anderson-type running ability in that quick glimpse of him on Florida field. He has breakaway speed and natural running instincts. What he lacks is the knowledge of the offense, which he was slow to pick up last season. When he figures it out, he should become a prime time back.
Sophomore Brandon James of St. Augustine was the special teams dynamo that will most likely break most of the kick return records at Florida before he is done. James is also an exciting runner with really surprising speed. His durability running inside in a zone running scheme would be the only liability for James, but he is an exceptional runner that could really bolster the play making ability of the offense when he is on the field.
Redshirt freshman Chevon Walker of Ft. Myers (FL) is a relative unknown since he did sit out last season. Walker has a quick first step and an explosion about him that allows him to be a really good kick blocker on special teams. That explosion lends itself to hitting the hole hard after making the mental decision to cut through it. It will be interesting to see where Walker fits in once he learns the system like the others.
True freshman Bo Williams of Oakland Park (FL) will miss the spring due to shoulder surgery. He was expected to fight for a spot on the field as well, but will have to take that fight into the fall. He is big and fast and not afraid of contact.
When fall does arrive, the Gators will add another jitterbug in Lakeland’s Chris Rainey. Rainey set several high school records and even though he doesn’t have ideal tailback size, he is someone that you have to have on the field with the ball in his hands if you are an offensive coordinator. He will most likely see playing time next year, especially in the return game.
One key component the Gators may miss this season is the ultra reliable and vastly underrated H-back Billy Latsko. Latsko wasn’t on the field all the time but was always doing exactly what he should be doing to help the Gators win. In his absence the Gators are going to look for senior Eric Rutledge of Gainesville to try and step up and be the blocker and emergency receiving threat that Latsko was for the Gators in 2006. Rutledge was an accomplished runner himself in high school and has some physical ability to be an excellent fullback of H-back at Florida.
Long snapper James Smith, a junior from Gainesville will be Rutledge’s back up early on. Smith is a special teams work horse, often snapping on punts and making the tackle down the field or downing the punt. He also is on kickoff coverage and has excellent physical tools to play the H-back position.