Photo: Montrell Johnson; Credit: Alex Shepherd
Following a disappointing 2021 season, the Florida Gators have taken major strides toward better equipping next year's unit for increased success.
The first step taken was appointing former Louisiana-Lafayette head coach Billy Napier as the new man at the helm in replacement of Dan Mullen to lead the program into the future. The next was Napier's diligence in filling out his on-field and off-the-field staff to complete the massive overhaul.
However, since Napier and company arrived in Gainesville, the evaluation of player personnel has resulted in key veteran additions to spots believed to be significant areas of need before season one of the new regime commences Sept. 3 against Utah.
Those five acquisitions, and counting, through the transfer portal, have the potential to pay dividends as some step into starting roles while others provide important depth and rotational flexibility.
As a result, AllGators takes a look at the new faces that have arrived via the transfer portal this offseason and the roles they will assume in 2022.
We kick things off with sophomore running back Montrell Johnson under the microscope.
The Gators' newfound emphasis on the ground game will be a staple of the offensive game plan as they attempt to wind down opponents and put points on the board in 2022 and beyond.
During Napier's time at UL, there was a near 60/40 split in the Ragin' Cajuns' play-calling in favor of the run. The team prospered employing that style, and so did the running backs.
With Napier heading to Gainesville and stepping into the locker room of a team that was not only one year removed from an air-oriented attack but was losing the team's three leading rushers from a season ago (including quarterback Emory Jones), the necessity to retool the running back room was large.
When also incorporating the fact that the most experienced returning rusher Nay'Quan Wright would be recovering from a severe ankle injury suffered in the regular-season finale this offseason, it became imperative.
As a result, the Napier and running backs coach Jabbar Juluke brought a familiar face with multiple years of remaining eligibility to UF’s campus from their previous stop.
Playing as a true freshman last season, Johnson performed in a big way at UL to be named Sun Belt Freshman of the Year in 2021 despite splitting carries in a three-back rotation with Chris Smith and Emani Bailey.
Johnson out-touched the two veteran backs with 162 total carries for 838 yards and a team-leading 12 touchdowns. An eventful 99-yard run for six highlighted his mixture of power and explosiveness in 2021.
His productive season marked a promising start to his career and suggested that he was worthy of moving to the power five with Florida.
Equipped with a strong lower half and the top-end speed to separate from pursuing would-be tacklers, Johnson is a perfect option to rush the football between the tackles in short-yardage situations and off-tackle in stretch run concepts for Florida.
His versatility in that regard makes him a valuable piece on paper for Napier to deploy at his disposal.
The Gators' head coach referred to him as “what the doctor ordered” in the Florida ground attack following the orange and blue spring game for that reason.
While he was not utilized out of the backfield in the passing game — a duty that will likely be deferred to other backs on the roster — Johnson’s success on the ground and in pass protection will allow him to see extended stretches on the field.
And, luckily for Florida fans, that will be a breath of fresh air as the days of mundane rotations that severely neglects the hot hand appears to have halted.
However, while his skill set will be vital to Florida’s success, and could even dictate the number of tallies in the win column, what he brings from a mental standpoint is greater.
Johnson —despite being one of the newest members — will serve as a veteran of the system. His presence as a high-volume back will continue to aid others in Florida's backfield rotation, alongside the likes of Wright, Lorenzo Lingard and Demarkcus Bowman, and will prove to be an asset for players growing acclimated as the scheme demands the use of multiple ball carriers.
Most importantly, starting quarterback Anthony Richardson will have another player in the offense who understands the game on a deeper level to lean on as he embarks on what many expect to be a campaign where the Gainesville native arrives to star status.
Overall, the addition of Johnson has the potential to be the biggest of all transfers in the short term as well as the long term.
He, if everything goes accordingly, will assume the role of feature rusher to lead the charge for Florida on the ground.
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