5 Gators running backs? McElwain knows all about crowded backfields from Alabama

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Jim McElwain might never have more options at running back as the coach of the Gators than he does entering the 2016 season.

The backfield has a versatile pass-catcher in sophomore Jordan Cronkrite. Fellow sophomore Jordan Scarlett is a physical downhill runner and potential home run threat. And Mark Thompson, at 6-foot-2, 237 pounds, gives the Gators a true power back.

While that trio could easily divide up the workload, McElwain has insisted this offseason that the Gators have even more capable running backs. He’s frequently praised redshirt senior Mark Herndon, and last week he singled out true freshman Lamical Perine as a candidate for playing time.

“I tell you what, he’s a guy that runs with great pad level. He’s slippery in there,” McElwain said of the newcomer. “I mean, guys bounce off him, and he’s really strong, he’s got a great stiff arm and he’s done some really good things.”

Tandem ground attacks are nothing new to college football, and run-heavy teams might even employ a trio of rushers, but it seems virtually impossible for the Florida coaches to keep all five running backs happy with the amount of carries they will get this fall. When McElwain was asked last week about running backs needing to be selfless, he did a little name dropping.

“I think we had one backfield at one of the places I was at where Eddie Lacy was our fourth-teamer and this guy was a pretty good player and we found carries for him,” McElwain said.

McElwain’s anecdotal reference is to the 2010 season, when he was the offensive coordinator at Alabama. His primary running back that season was Mark Ingram, who won the Heisman Trophy in 2009. Next in line was Trent Richardson, who finished third in Heisman voting in 2011.

Lacy might have started Alabama camp the “fourth-team” back in 2010, but he didn’t finish the season that way. Alabama’s final carries tally for that season shows 158 for Ingram, 112 for Richardson, 56 for Lacy and 34 for Demetrius Goode.

For the 2011 season, Goode transferred to Division II North Alabama. Meanwhile in Tuscaloosa, McElwain coached a Crimson Tide offense led by Richardson and Lacy to a BCS championship.

Whether invoking Lacy was aimed at the Gators’ veterans or future recruits, or perhaps both, the message was clear: The best players will get an opportunity on Saturdays regardless of seniority or resume. If McElwain splits carries between five ball-carriers, one of the Gators running backs could look for more playing time elsewhere a la Goode.

While the possibility of a transfer can stress the message board crowd, for McElwain it’s about committing to a long-term vision. He’s going to strive to sign the best available players in the spring and then play the best available players in the fall.

In 2016, McElwain has five running backs he believes can contribute. If that number decreases by a couple in 2017, so be it. It worked out just fine at Alabama.

Source: Saturday Down South

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