In 2012 Will Muschamp tipped his hand in the very first game. Florida was going to rely on stout defensive play and a power running attack to be successful.
The Gators stubbornly ran the ball against eight and nine man fronts against Bowling Green and it was just a sign of things to come.
The new offensive style led to Florida having their first 1,000-yard rusher since 2004 in Mike Gillislee and if we learned anything from the 2013 spring game, it was that 1,000-yard rushers might become more common as long as Muschamp is leading this team.
The running backs, Kelvin Taylor and walk-on Mark Herndon in particular, stole the show on Saturday afternoon.
Taylor, the son of former Gator great Fred Taylor, showed the kind of explosiveness and vision that led to him rush for over 10,000 yards in high school.
Being an early enrollee has allowed Taylor to get in the playbook and get ahead of schedule as a freshman. Taylor has taken advantage of this opportunity and impressed his head coach in the process.
“Kelvin’s got a really strong lower body. He runs through contact extremely well.” Muschamp said. “He has natural instincts in the run game, but we just have to continue to get the turns, the reps, the protections and all the things you have to be able to do for us at running back. But I’m extremely pleased with his progress.”
Taylor’s first big run of the day came out of nowhere during 11-on-11 scrimmage. Taylor took a handoff and seemed to be bottled up by Antonio Morrison up the middle. Taylor was able to stop on a dime and bounce around the right tackle, picking up 16-yards and a first down.
In an effort to top that, Taylor also scored a touchdown. He took a handoff and ran off of the left tackle. Taylor found green grass in front of him and was able to lower his shoulder at the goal line and find the end zone.
Taylor’s ability to make a cut and quickly accelerate back to his top speed quickly is one of his greatest strengths as a runner and has his teammates noticing him.
“How quick he is coming out of the backfield and his vision is nice. I just like his quickness.” Matt Jones said of Taylor. “I thought he did great today, awesome job. He hit the hole well, caught the ball well, his protection was [good].”
When asked what sticks out about Taylor, Jones said it has to be the young tailback’s quickness.
“His quickness out of the backfield. He’s an explosive guy. He picks up the plays fast and he’s still learning.”
This is high praise coming from Jones, considering he has distanced himself form the pack at running back and looks to be the clear-cut starter at running back.
Matt Jones only took one carry during the scrimmage portions of the Orange and Blue Debut but that was by design.
“In the backfield, Matt Jones really didn’t do a whole lot today, and that was by design. We wanted to get Kelvin, Mack and Mark some touches.” Muschamp said. “Matt’s had a really outstanding spring. We have a good comfort level of where he is as a player.”
Will Muschamp also praised Jones for being an all-around back and for being consistent throughout spring.
“He’s a physical runner. He understands our protection. He’s got great hands in the throwing game. There’s no question he is an all-around back. He can do everything for us and he’s shown it to us for 14 straight practices.”
Despite clearly being the No. 1 guy on the depth chart at running back, Jones is staying humble.
“It was a tough job at first competing with those guys. Like I said, all the running backs are great running backs, all of them have talent. It was a great competition,” Jones continued. “I still can’t fall off right now. I still got to keep on going and keep being humble.”
Jones did feel like there was a moment where he separated himself from the pack during the spring but he knew that he couldn’t rest on what he did yesterday and to always bring his “A” game to every practice.
“I definitely did [know when he had the job locked up], but then again at that time I can’t think like that because of guys trying to surpass me a little bit,” Jones said. “I had to get back on my job. Coach Muschamp got on me about that and [I] definitely had to buckle down and keep humble.”
Jones’ play has also impressed his starting quarterback, Jeff Driskel.
“He’s [Jones] going to be huge for us. He’s a guy who can run hard and breakaway when he’s in the open field. He’s also great at pass protecting,” Driskel said. “He knows his assignments well. And he’s good when he gets in space running check down routes or option routes. He’s definitely a versatile guy that we’re going to have to rely a lot this year like we did with Mike last year.”
Somewhat of a surprise player this spring, walk-on running back Mark Herndon has come into his own.
Herndon chose to walk-on at Florida, a school he grew up dreaming of playing for, rather than accept scholarship offers from schools like Marshall, Miami, Fresno State and FAU.
Herndon appeared in six games as a freshman, but all of his game action was spent on special teams.
I must admit that Herndon wasn’t on my radar when we attended open practices a few weeks ago but when you start to see number 37 make play after play in practice, you take notice.
With Jones getting most of the day off, it was Herndon along with Taylor that took most of the reps at running back. Herndon’s best run of the day came on a play where he was able to follow Jon Harrison and pick up about 15-yards and a first down.
Standing just 5’9”, Herndon is smaller than Taylor and Jones but he makes up for it with his fast, fearless running style. Herndon will be a key player on special teams this season and he may even move ahead of Mack Brown on the depth chart.
With Florida’s passing game still growing and developing, the Gators will once again lean on their rushing attack to carry the team in 2013.
With Jones leading the way and players like Herndon, Taylor and Brown giving the Gators great depth, it might not be a bad idea to lean on the group of players offensively.