Jordan McPherson/SEC Country
Florida running back Malik Davis makes his way to practice Thursday.

Florida’s freshman running backs progressing ahead of first scrimmage

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Junior Jordan Scarlett is expected to be Florida’s lead running back heading into the 2017 season.

Sophomore Lamical Perine is close behind, and redshirt senior Mark Thompson has a year in the Gators system after transferring from Dodge Community College in Kansas.

But coach Jim McElwain also added a pair of talented freshmen to the running back room in Malik Davis and Adarius Lemons.

Two weeks into fall camp — and ahead of the team’s first scrimmage that could have a heavy hand in determining roles for the 2017 season — McElwain on Friday said he has been impressed with how the newcomers are competing.

“[They are] ahead of where maybe I thought they’d be,” McElwain said. “I think both these guys will make our team.”

Lemons and Davis were 3-star recruits and the No. 25 and No. 26 running backs, respectively, in the country, according to the 247Sports composite. Both had successful high school careers in the Tampa, Fla., area.

Lemons was the No. 1 running back recruit in Florida before being expelled from Clearwater High School during his senior year and having to take a detour to get his academic life back on track. He’s a powerful runner who gets the most from his 6-foot, 200-pound frame. Scarlett calls him “crazy legs.”

“He runs really hard,” Scarlett said. “He runs behind his pads. … He just goes wild.”

Davis, on the other hand, focuses on finesse. The 5-11, 195-pound freshman is coming off an illustrious high school career in which he set the Hillsborough County high school record with 7,025 career rushing yards. He added 83 total touchdowns during his four seasons at Jesuit High while averaging 8.5 yards per rushing attempt.

“He’s really flashy,” Scarlett said. “He has a lot of shifty moves.”

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First-year running backs coach Ja’Juan Seider said in the spring that he is optimistic about both freshmen.

“I think they’re both tremendous football players,” Seider said. “I think they’re going to be ready to help us. They bring an element to this team that I think they can hit the home run.”

In order to have that chance, Davis and Lemons will need to find ways to make the most out of every carry they get.

The Gators have five running backs who could handle the responsibilities and only so many carries to divide up on game day. One mistake in practice or in a game for the freshmen — whether it’s a fumble, a missed assignment in pass protection or a bad cut while trying to take the ball upfield — could be the difference between playing time and a redshirt season.

“It’s just pushing each other,” Scarlett said. “When we’re tired you’ve got to just dig deep because the next man is always trying to take your spot or do it better.”

Regardless of the playing time the freshmen get, Scarlett is optimistic they will have the chance to shine at some point.

“They’re two good backs,” Scarlett said. “I’d like to see what they’ve got coming the next few years.”