When the Florida Gators embark on its season there will be plenty of questions surrounding its offense.
While all eyes may be on quarterback Emory Jones, there are plenty of reasons to take a long look at its running backs group, which could be even better if former transfer RB Lorenzo Lingard hits his stride. And that's something Florida head coach Dan Mullen believes could happen this season.
“I think he’s taken huge strides," Mullen said of the redshirt junior running back. "I think he’ll make an impact this year. I think he’s worked his tail off."
Lingard was first brought into the program from the University of Miami, entering via the transfer portal following his redshirt freshman season. Last year, Lingard didn't see the field much, only able to account for five carries for 32 yards, while playing in five games total.
For running backs, the position is more than running the football left, right, or center, Mullen said. It's about being able to pass protect, understanding concepts and being a pass catcher. Without a lot of those traits, you won't be able to see the field, which is partially why Lingard had a hard time doing so in 2020.
"So I think there’s an awful lot that goes into the running back position just beyond talent," Mullen explained. "And I think Lorenzo’s a guy that has obviously worked really hard at his talent, has played hard and I think has really had a good training camp.
"But I think now the light came on also of him understanding the other aspects of what is needed from the running back position to be able to play at an extremely high level."
Coming out of high school, Lingard was thought to be one of the top RBs in his class, praised for his top-end speed and pass-catching ability. While he was able to show some of those traits in camp while at Miami, his career got off on the wrong foot, suffering through injuries that ultimately held him out of most of his first two years.
Now, another year in the system at Florida, it appears Lingard could become an important part of Florida's offense. Having much more knowledge of the playbook, blocking schemes, and an extra year of good health ought to go a long way.
"I think, if you ask, the best thing I saw our running backs do last night was pass protection," Mullen said, speaking about the scrimmage on Sunday night.
Protection will be one of the key aspects of Lingard's game he will need to hone in on this season. Florida will already have a first and second down running back in Dameon Pierce, along with plenty of depth behind him in Nay'Quan Wright and Demarkcus Bowman.
Lingard's role will likely be primarily on third down, competing with Malik Davis, who has proven himself capable as a pass-catcher. While he may not see the bulk of the repetitions, Lingard looks to get far more run than he did just a season ago, and that's not a bad thing for an offense running with a first-year starter in Jones.