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Gators Football Spring Preview: Running Backs

Gators running back Jordan Cronkrite
Gators running back Jordan Cronkrite

March 9 marks the beginning of spring football for Florida as Jim McElwain enters his second season as UF’s head coach. As practices are soon approaching, Inside the Gators will take a position-by-position look at Florida's roster. Today, we look at the Gators’ running backs.

RETURNING:

Jordan Cronkrite (sophomore; 5-11, 205)

Jordan Scarlett (sophomore; 5-10, 198)

Mark Herndon (redshirt senior/former walk-on; 5-9, 198)

Case Harrison (redshirt junior/former walk-on; 6-0, 198)

NEW ADDITIONS:

Mark Thompson (redshirt junior early enrollee; 6-2, 228)

POST-SPRING ADDITIONS:

Lamical Perine (freshman; 5-11, 218)

GONE:

Kelvin Taylor (declared early for the NFL Draft)

LAST YEAR: Despite the loss of Matt Jones to the NFL Draft, the running back position proved to be one of the Gators' greatest strengths on offense in 2015. After his first two seasons at Florida were filled with inconsistency, as a junior Kelvin Taylor emerged into a reliable weapon for the Gators. Finishing the year with 1,035 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns on 259 carries playing behind what can be considered a suspect offensive line, Taylor became UF's first 1,000-yard rusher since Mike Gillislee in 2012 and only its second since Ciatrick Fason in 2004.

Meanwhile, Jordan Scarlett and Jordan Cronkrite didn't see a significant number of carries as freshmen while Taylor flourished. Scarlett finished with 181 rushing yards and a touchdown on 34 carries, but 96 of those yards came in a breakout performance against Georgia on Oct. 31. After that point, the former St. Thomas Aquinas standout finished with just 16 yards on 12 carries in his final five appearances. Scarlett was suspended for the Citrus Bowl after being cited for marijuana possession.

Overall, Cronkrite finished with 157 yards and three touchdowns on 44 carries in a limited role where he showed flashes of his upside. Mark Herndon played primarily on special teams, while Case Harrison missed a good chunk of the year with a thumb injury.

KEY QUESTION: With Taylor now turning pro, who will emerge as Florida's top ball-carrier?

Cronkrite and Scarlett will certainly be in the mix, but UF now adds Thompson, a 6-foot-2, 228-pounder who should bring a new element to the backfield. Perine, a four-star recruit, arrives in the summer. It should be a heated competition this offseason - and it'll be interested to see which way Jim McElwain goes when it comes to dividing up carries for his tailbacks. Will it just be one guy taking the bulk of them, like Taylor did in 2015? Or will it be closer to a split between 2-3 guys?

PLENTY TO PROVE: During fall camp, Scarlett was compared by many - including Antonio Morrison - to Trent Richardson while at Alabama. Well, he certainly didn't perform like it as a freshman. At times, he played with too high of a pad level and didn't show a quick enough burst out of the hole. Still, a player with Scarlett's physical tools has a load of potential. If he could polish up some aspects of his own game and improve his mental approach, then he could be a major player in this battle.

HE COULD SURPRISE: Thompson emerged as the top-ranked JUCO running back in the 2016 class during his final seasons at Dodge City (Kansas) Community College. There, he rushed for 1,298 yards and 18 touchdowns on 268 carries, displaying his physicality and aggressiveness as a bellcow back. So far, the early reviews on Thompson have been positive. Could he supplant both Cronkrite and Scarlett eventually for the starting role?

KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR: How Cronkrite performs this spring. While Cronkrite doesn't have some of the same natural physical gifts as Scarlett, he has a lot of the attributes you look for in a running back. He's an aggressive north-south runner who plays well behind his pads and finds holes well. Another positive aspect about Cronkrite is his pass-catching ability out of the backfield, as evidenced by his spectacular 41-yard touchdown catch at South Carolina last season. It wouldn't be surprising to see Cronkrite get the first go with the first-team offense this spring, considering how he trended near the end of 2015 as compared to Scarlett.

UP NEXT:

Wide Receivers

PREVIOUS GATORS SPRING PREVIEWS:

Quarterbacks

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REDSHIRT REPORTS:

Jabari Zuniga

Luke Ancrum

Kalif Jackson

Brandon Sandifer

Nick Buchanan

Richerd Desir-Jones

2016 PARTING THOUGHTS:

Josh Grady Parting Thoughts: I | II | III

--In-depth look at Florida Football: Subscriber Q&A with Josh Grady I | II

Anthony Harrell Parting Thoughts: I | II