Running backs Montrell Johnson and Trevor Etienne are returning for their second season as Gators after combining for 1,560 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2022. The dynamic 1-2 punch averaged over 5.7 yards per carry out of Florida’s backfield.
“They did an outstanding job last year, but last year is last year. We have to turn the page and get into a new focus,” running backs coach Jabbar Juluke said after Thursday’s spring practice. “Because now you have different hurdles to climb, right? Because now that you have had success, how do you handle it? Are you going to be the teammate that you need to be all the time? Or are you gonna just say, ‘I did what I did last year, and it’s okay.’ So we’re constantly challenging the guys in the room, and they constantly challenge each other as they go.”
Coach Juluke said that leadership is the duo’s biggest room for improvement.
“Now they’re in a different role, they’ve gotta be leaders,” Juluke said. “They’ve got to help Treyaun Webb become a good football player as well. So, they have different roles than what they had last year. And it’s gonna get better. You know, those guys are really good human beings, right? They’re team first guys, it’s not about them, and they’re gonna try to make sure that the young people in the room are doing what they’re supposed to do.”
“Have to be leaders, have to be more vocal leaders, have to understand that they can’t get away with not doing the little things correctly all the time,” Juluke said. “You know, just being better pass protectors, alright? Understanding the offense in that aspect of it. Being better ball carriers. It might sound crazy but you can always improve on being a better ball carrier, understanding the defense and understanding where you got to go before it happens. The game is going to slow down tremendously for Trevor and Montrell. So hopefully, we continue to do that and build on it.”
The Gators’ running back room welcomes two new faces in freshman Treyaun Webb and Tulane transfer Cameron Carroll.
Webb has been seen going through the motions at the start of spring camp.
“Biggest transition for high school running backs is pass protection,” Juluke said. “Those guys don’t do a lot of pass protection. It’s not that he’s afraid to hit someone. It’s knowing how to hit and who to pick up and when the game is moving fast for a young guy, we’ve got to do our best to slow it down to make sure he understands the game. High school is take the ball and go. High school is not as complicated as college. That’s the transition I think he has to make. He’s learning. He’s a very smart kid. He had a 4.2 grade-point average coming out of high school so he understands it. He understands football and I think once he gets the grasp on it, he’ll be a lot better at doing it.”
Carroll was a productive back for Tulane, totaling 1,638 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns on the ground throughout six years for the Green Wave. The veteran’s decision to join Florida raised eyebrows across Gator Nation, as the Gators are returning one of the best running back duos in all of college football and playing time could be at a premium.
“Most guys would not want to come here,” Juluke said. “Cam was interested in the challenge, you know, he wanted to compete. He was told that from the beginning, right? And then, Ray Charles can see that those guys have production. So he did his homework, actually it would help being in New Orleans. People that he trained with, they trust me that I wouldn’t tell him or give him a bill of sale, I tell him the truth. He’s coming in, he’s gonna compete, you know, start from the bottom and work his way up. I mean, he’s accepted the challenge, and he’s looking forward to it. He’s been out right now, but you know, he’s gonna be a good player and he’s going to help us. He’s gonna help us on special teams, gonna help us in the backfield. He’s going to push those other guys to be better than what they are.”
“We brought him in because he wasn’t afraid to compete,” Juluke said. “We looked at his film; he was good enough to play, you know, having those two guys now. Everybody ain’t not gonna do it and come here, you know. So we were fortunate that that young man wanted to come and be a part of our organization and be a part of our room, be a part of the brotherhood that we’re trying to create. And he’s gonna be a leader. He’s gonna make sure the young guys know what they’re doing, and he’s not afraid. He knows he has some work to do to try and get on the field with those two guys being there, and he’s up for the challenge.
Juluke sees Carroll being able to contribute down the stretch.
“He’s got athletic ability, can move around well,” Juluke said. “Smart. He’s been playing football, like Treyaun Webb says, for half a decade. So he understands the game, he’s just got to try to get the two terminologies across in his head right now. So, he’s got to get that out of the way, just focus on what we’re doing and he should be able to help us somewhere down the line.”
Florida didn’t utilize the running backs out of the backfield last season as much as I would have liked last season, but the additions of Webb and Carroll may be able to generate more production in that department.
“They have really good ball skills,” Juluke said. ” They catch the ball when its thrown to us, they catch the ball out of the backfield, check downs. So those guys are really good athletes. [I’m] pleasantly surprised that Treyaun Webb can catch the ball in the backfield, Cameron Carroll as well. Also Eddie Battle, he catches the ball out of the backfield pretty well. So he’s doing good out there also. So I think as a collective unit, we have good guys in there. First and foremost, you have to have good guys that want to compete with one another, that’s not afraid to compete. We challenge each other every day. So, I think we’re gonna be helpful in the passing game as well.”
Ideally, the Gators have five scholarship running backs heading into fall camp, however, it’s unclear whether Billy Napier will add another back this offseason.
“If it’s the right fit, you know. We’re not going to just take a guy just to say that we’re taking a guy,” Juluke said. “We want to make sure that it’s a right fit that comes about. But we have not talked about it, you know what I’m saying. But we normally have five scholarship running backs; that’s true. So we just want to go out there and put the best foot forward whoever that may be.”
The running back room will be a strength on the 2023 Florida Gators.