NCF Nation: Adam Lane

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida’s current situation at running back is nothing that anyone -- not even coach Will Muschamp -- would have ever imagined.

As the Gators begin preparations today for the Aug. 31 season opener against Toledo, the depth chart looks like this:

Projected starter Matt Jones has yet to practice because of a viral infection.

The player who has been working with the first team is redshirt junior Mack Brown, who has just 40 career carries after signing with UF in 2010 as the nation’s No. 4 running back.

The next player in line is sophomore Mark Herndon, a former walk-on who was awarded a scholarship on Tuesday. He has appeared in six games on special teams.

Behind Herndon is redshirt sophomore Valdez Showers, who was a safety until last week.

Then you finally come to you find Kelvin Taylor, the nation’s No. 1 running back recruit and the son of former UF standout Fred Taylor, and fellow freshman Adam Lane.

It’s that last part that’s the most surprising considering there was some thought that Taylor, who enrolled in January, was going to beat out Jones for the starting job during the spring. Instead, he and Lane will get just scraps of playing time because they have yet to prove themselves reliable.

"No. 1 is ball security," Muschamp said. "You’ve got to take care of the football. That’s the number one thing. They’re very talented runners [but] so much more goes into it other than just running the football. ... We like to make sure the quarterback is protected.

"They’ve got to take a step. Very pleased with both guys. They’re going to help us this year. How much, their role, will depend on how they continue to develop. It’s a long season."

Obviously the Gators want the 6-foot-2, 226-pound Jones back as soon as possible. He underwent blood work on Monday and was on the practice field for 10-15 minutes on Tuesday but still had not been cleared to practice. Muschamp said UF is preparing to play the Rockets without Jones, who had a fantastic spring and was named a preseason All-SEC third-team selection.

"All I know is he is progressing very well," said Muschamp, who is scheduled to meet with the media on Friday and provide another update. "I get a daily update. He feels good. He’s doing more and more every day from a workout standpoint, and that’s all I know. We’re playing it by ear and every day we have a staff meeting, we have an injury report and he [the trainer] gives me an update."

Brown has been a disappointment since he signed, mainly because he was hobbled by a hamstring injury and a broken ankle. His biggest contribution came in last season’s game against Texas A&M when he carried the ball four times for 11 yards to help the Gators run out the final 3:13 and preserve a 20-17 victory.

Herndon is the surprise considering he has played in just six games (all last season) on special teams. He ran for 1,600 yards and 19 touchdowns as a high school senior and Muschamp mentioned him as a standout in the spring, but to be the No. 2 back heading into the season opener is not something for which he would have hoped.

"Coach Muschamp always talks about ‘man down, man up’ and I just felt like it was an opportunity," Herndon said. "It [Jones’ viral infection] was really unfortunate. Me and Matt are teammates, so we talk and hang out. I was sad, but if he’s down, I’ve got to step up because the team needs me.

"That’s what I did. I tried to push Mack Brown. He’s the No. 1, so I tried to push him and keep him on his toes. I didn’t want anybody slacking."

Showers fell behind junior Jabari Gorman and redshirt freshman Marcus Maye in the battle for playing time at safety and was moved to running back last week. It’s not unfamiliar territory because he was a running back and cornerback at Detroit Madison, where he rushed for 3,596 yards and 49 touchdowns in his final two seasons.

Showers was heavily involved with the first-team offense, especially in the passing game, during UF’s open practices and Muschamp said the move is permanent.

"He's got great top-end speed. He's got really good ball skills," Muschamp said. "He can do a lot of different things for us as far as lining up at receiver, lining up in the backfield. A tough guy to account for a defensive coordinator. Been very pleased with what he's added for us offensively."

Muschamp will be more pleased when Jones returns. If that doesn’t happen within the next day or so, it may be too late for Jones to be prepared to play against Toledo. His season debut may have to come against Miami on Sept. 7.

"Any time you have something like this and you’re in uncharted waters and you’re uncertain of it, you always plan without the player," he said. "If the player’s there, it’s great. That’s gravy for everybody."
College football prognosticator Phil Steele continues his look at the top depth charts around the country. Today, we're looking at his top running back depth charts Insider.

Steele has three SEC teams on his list, with Georgia taking his top spot. Alabama is No. 2, while Texas A&M is 14th.

It's hard to argue against having Georgia No. 1. The Bulldogs bring back the top one-two rushing punch in Todd Gurley, who led SEC running backs with 1,385 yards and 17 touchdowns, and slasher Keith Marshall. The duo combined for 2,144 yards and averaged 6.3 yards per carry. There isn't much behind these two, but they did just fine with the majority of the carries last year.

[+] EnlargeT.J. Yeldon
AP Photo/Romeo GuzmanT.J. Yeldon returns to lead a deep backfield for the Crimson Tide this season.
Alabama has a very deep backfield that's led by sophomore T.J. Yeldon, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards last year. He should compete to be one of the top players at his position this fall as both a slasher and a pounder. The Tide will get back the beastly Jalston Fowler, who is coming off of knee surgery, and scat back Dee Hart, who is also returning from a knee injury. Sophomore Kenyan Drake is back and true freshman Derrick Henry should help out as both a running back and H-back this fall.

As for the Aggies, they're also very deep at running back. Leading rusher Ben Malena (808 yards) is back, and he'll be working with some younger but very talented teammates. Brandon Williams, who transferred from Oklahoma, has the potential to be very special. Then you have Oregon transfer Tra Carson and sophomore Trey Williams. There is a lot of speed and athleticism in Texas A&M's running back stable.

I'd also keep an eye on Florida, LSU and Ole Miss this fall. The Gators will be led by sophomore Matt Jones, who had a very good spring and should pick up right where Mike Gillislee left off. He'll also get help from redshirt junior Mack Brown, who left spring as the No. 2 back, and freshmen Kelvin Taylor and Adam Lane. Taylor had a good spring and Lane should come in and help right away.

LSU might have made Steele's list if Jeremy Hill wasn't suspended from the team. Hill's recent arrest has his future at LSU in doubt, but if he plays this fall he'll be one of the league's best. Kenny Hilliard and Alfred Blue are nothing to sneeze at. Both have shown flashes in the past and Blue should be healed from a knee injury that cost him most of his 2012 season. Losing Hill will really hurt, but the Tigers have a solid duo in Hilliard and Blue to work with.

Ole Miss returns rushing leader Jeff Scott and a talented bunch of youngsters. Scott is a solid all-purpose-type back, while sophomores I'Tavius Mathers and Jaylen Walton came on strong late last year and this spring. True freshman Mark Dodson will get his chance to see the field as well after a strong spring.
The other day I was asked a question about the SEC that caught me off guard a little.

And no, it wasn't about Bob Stoops or scheduling.

I was asked if the league would be a quarterback or running back league in 2013. Obviously, when you think about the SEC, you think of pound-it-out, grind-it-out football. Games are won and lost in the trenches and running backs are usually a team's most coveted asset. The more the merrier, too.

But the SEC returns some pretty good experience at both positions.

At running back, the SEC will be without four of the league's top 10 rushers -- Eddie Lacy, Mike Gillislee, Zac Stacy and Kendial Lawrence -- from the 2012 season. The SEC will be without three of the top 10 passers -- Tyler Bray, Tyler Wilson and Jordan Rodgers.

Now, my math skills tell me that seven top players at a position is better than six, but the SEC is deep at running back this season. Of the seven top quarterbacks returning, six reached 2,500 passing yards, while only two made it to 3,000 yards -- Aaron Murray and Johnny Manziel. Nine true starters return (Kentucky's Maxwell Smith missed most of last season and ended the spring behind Jalen Whitlow). So five teams are breaking in new starters.

The SEC saw eight running backs hit the 1,000-yard mark last season. There's a chance the league could not only reach that number again but it could eclipse it.

[+] EnlargeT.J. Yeldon
AP Photo/Romeo GuzmanT.J. Yeldon takes over for running back Eddie Lacy as "the guy" for Alabama.
Alabama lost Lacy -- and his 1,322 yards/17 touchdowns -- but rising sophomore T.J. Yeldon appears more than ready to take over as the lead back. He rushed for 1,108 yards and 12 touchdowns last year, and it sounds like he looked even better as the guy. He'll also have help from fellow sophomore Kenyan Drake, who played in 12 games last year, and Jalston Fowler and Dee Hart, who are both returning from season-ending knee injuries. Remember, Fowler had nearly 400 rushing yards in 2011. True freshman Derrick Henry, who was tearing it up this spring before his leg injury, should help once he's healthy this fall.

Oh, and Alabama will welcome three more backs this summer, including ESPN 150 member Alvn Kamara.

Texas A&M and Florida will also have the luxury of a packed backfield. The Aggies return leading rusher (for a running back) Ben Malena (808 yards), but will also have rising sophomore Trey Williams, and transfers Brandon Williams and Tra Carson. Brandon Williams might be the most talented of the bunch, and none of these guys should get too tired with all those legs to work with.

The Gators lost Gillislee, but sophomore-to-be Matt Jones had an excellent spring. He knew the playbook backward and forward and showed a more physical style. He already has the goal of getting 1,500 yards. But he'll have help from redshirt junior Mack Brown, who had a very solid spring, and freshmen Kelvin Taylor (early enrollee) and Adam Lane. The coaches feel very good about all four contributing a lot this fall.

Georgia is a little thin at running back, but with Gurley and Keith Marshall returning, the Dawgs could have the best running back duo in the SEC -- maybe the country.

Here's a quick look at how other SEC teams currently fare at running back heading into the summer:

Arkansas

The Razorbacks lack experience at the position, but sophomore Jonathan Williams made good strides this spring and looks poised to be the top back. He'll also have incoming freshman Alex Collins to help him this fall.

Auburn

Tre Mason and his 1,000 yards return. He should have even more space to work with in Gus Malzahn's spread, which could spell trouble for defenses. Junior college transfer Cameron Artis-Payne had a solid spring, and Corey Grant returns.

Kentucky

Leading rushers Raymond Sanders (669 yards) and Jonathan George (504 yards) return with two talented youngsters to help out. Dyshawn Mobley had an excellent spring and Josh Clemons is back from a devastating knee injury he suffered in 2011.

LSU

Legal issues have Jeremy Hill's fall status unknown for the fall. If he returns, he gives the Tigers on of the top backs in the league. Kenny Hilliard and Alfred Blue return, but LSU will be thin at the position without Hill.

Mississippi State

LaDarius Perkins returns after his 1,000-yard season. He's a complete back and can hurt teams running and catching. Josh Robinson returns after a productive year as the backup. Nick Griffin has a ton of skill, but still hasn't reached his potential.

Missouri

Lawrence is gone, but Henry Josey is back and says he's 100 percent after his devastating knee injury in 2011. He was one of the Big 12's best and most explosive running backs before his injury. The Tigers have plenty of bodies at running back and should get good use out of Marcus Murphy and Russell Hansbrough.

Ole Miss

Leading rusher Jeff Scott (846) is back and he'll be working with some solid sophomores in I'Tavius Mathers and Jaylen Walton. True freshman Mark Dodson had a productive spring as well. Along with the six returning lettermen, Ole Miss will have three more signees on campus this fall.

South Carolina

Mike Davis isn't trying to be Marcus Lattimore, but he did a good job of taking his spot this spring. The rising sophomore can pound it or break out for that home run play. Brandon Wilds and Shon Carson are back from injuries and ESPN 150 member David Williams will be in town this fall.

Tennessee

Marlin Lane's off-field problems didn't help things this spring, but Butch Jones was very happy with the play of Alden Hill and Rajion Neal this spring. Lane has every chance to come back and if he does the Vols will have a pretty solid three-headed rushing monster.

Vanderbilt

Stacy is gone, but Wesley Tate and Brian Kimbrow had good springs in Nashville. Jerron Seymour gives Vandy another body to use, as well. Tate and Kimbrow both have big-play ability, but they'll have to stay healthy because there isn't a lot of experience behind them.
Will MuschampDerick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsWill Muschamp must evaluate the Gators' offense this offseason following a rough Sugar Bowl loss.
NEW ORLEANS -- It's funny how the perception of a team can change so quickly.

Most of the time leading up to Florida's bout with Louisville in the Allstate Sugar Bowl involved conversations about how good the Gators could be in 2013. The overwhelming thought from pretty much every side of the college football spectrum was that the Gators would handle a talented, yet, overmatched Louisville team and then wait to see how high they would rise in next year's preseason polls.

With a chunk of talent returning on defense and an offense that just had to get better, Florida was looking at being a legitimate national title contender in 2013.

However, all that talk ceased when Louisville's Terell Floyd intercepted Jeff Driskel's opening pass and took it 38 yards for a touchdown to give the Cardinals an immediate 7-0 lead. At the time, the play looked harmless in the grand scheme of things, but it proved to totally break the Gators' offensive concentration.

From there, Florida panicked offensively (star running back Mike Gillislee ran the ball just nine times), and Driskel's composure and pass attempts became harder and harder to watch.

The offense rarely wowed in 2012, but during its first appearence in 2013, with a month of work, it totally collapsed, leaving the Gators with a load of question marks entering spring practice.

That Gators always found a way to bounce back with its mediocre offensive attack, but had no answers against the Cardinals. Now, it really is back to the drawing board for Will Muschamp and offensive coordinator Brent Pease.

But what does Florida do? Backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett is still unsure if he'll return, but if he leaves, players have to have more confidence in Driskel than they had this fall. The rhythm and timing has to improve or this offense isn't going anywhere.

Driskel became a major scapegoat for the offense in the Twitterverse Wednesday night, but as former Florida quarterback Chris Leak told me after the game: It's hard to do much of anything when there isn't much of anything around you. Driskel might have composure issues in the pocket, but he has just one consistent receiving weapon in tight end Jordan Reed, who got injured Wednesday night. He also played behind an offensive line that was wildly inconsistent in pass protection.

Pease has said that the offensive line will be better in 2013, but that might not matter much if the Gators don't find a couple of consistent receiving threats. Reed is still on the fence about coming back, and if he doesn't, Florida will enter spring with only one player who caught 30-or-more passes in 2012 -- wide receiver Quinton Dunbar (36).

Pease and new receivers coach Joker Phillips have to find someone who can catch the ball on a regular basis, with or without Reed in the lineup. The Gators just can't run their offense effectively next year without it because teams won't respect the pass next year. They were too respectful at times this fall.

With freshmen Adam Lane and Kelvin Taylor coming to help Matt Jones and Mack Brown, the Gators will look to be run-oriented again, but as LSU has taught us, you have to have a threat to pass or you'll get eaten up against tougher defenses. And the use of the "Wildcat" will have to be greatly scaled back because it really has lost its effectiveness.

Teams respected the running game in 2012. They will look to clobber it in 2013 if a receiver doesn't step up. Will it be a freshman? Dunbar? Tight end Kent Taylor? Who knows, but everything this offense got away with in 2012 won't fly next season.

Florida has the defensive talent to make another strong run through the SEC, but if the offense doesn't really evolve in the next nine months and if Driskel still isn't comfortable for a majority of the time, scenes like Wednesday night's might be a recurring theme.

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