College football will return in earnest within the next two weeks, albeit in the form of fall camp before the actual season begins in September. For the Knights and this particular fall camp, there are more storylines than normal with a new coaching staff, 12 transfers coming into the program, and a Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback Dillon Gabriel at quarterback. Adding to the diversity of storylines would simply be the younger players returning to the UCF roster that must compete against the more experienced veterans.
Regardless of class, all the running backs and wide receivers must establish themselves amongst the depth chart. It’s no different than any other year from a media and fan perspective except there seems to be more names than usual. Whom shall we see step up and become key contributors for the UCF Football program?
A Crowded Running Back Depth Chart
The Knights return Bentavious Thompson, Damarius Good, Johnny Richardson, and RJ Harvey to the running back room. Additionally, two transfers with Mark-Antony Richards and Isaiah Bowser join the Knights, plus incoming freshman Anthony Williams.
As noted in yesterday’s article about Richards, the first half of the following sentence can be applied to the entire running back depth chart, and the second half of the sentence could be applied to additional running backs as well.
“‘How the depth chart shakes out will be uncertain until UCF plays Boise State during game one, but expect Richards to be one of the players to earn playing time and carries.’”
That statement will hold true until the pads begin to pop first and foremost. Then, specific running backs must prove to UCF Running Back Coach Tim Harris that they grasp the blocking scheme and pre-snap checks that must be adhered to in a conscious effort to provide the best pass protection for Gabriel, as well as run the right play overall. Running back’s go through much more mental preparation than many fans know.
Perhaps the biggest area to note would be the variety in styles of running backs so there’s room for at least one young player to make his mark. It’s just a matter of which player and which role that will come from. UCF possesses quicker and shiftier running backs like Harvey, Richardson and Williams that can play in the slot as well as running back, and Thompson, Bowser, Richards, and Good possess their own running back styles as well.
Underclassman to Watch: The long-striding speed of Good will be interesting, as he could be utilized in a myriad of different roles. Screens, reverses, sweeps and any play designed to provide this young man a chance to make a play in space could come to fruition.
Overall, it’s a group that simply needs to compete against one another. Fall camp will be telling for the running back room.
Wide Receiver Presents Unique Options, Transfers
With returning star Jaylon Robinson (17.8 yards per catch) taking defenses deep and fellow classmate Ryan O’Keefe (19.6 yards per catch) also returning to UCF to run by defenders, there are two speedy and nimble wide receivers that will give defenses fits. Now the Knights need a bigger -- and longer -- wide receiver to emerge. There’s one truly intriguing option coming from Texas.
From Kilgore Junior College, Jaylon Griffin has the size at 6’3”, 185-pounds. Just as important, the way his frame developed with very long legs, he presents that long-striding deep threat that will score with more than just his height.
Griffin’s high school film displayed a prospect with the ability to run by defensive backs, make quick cuts to gain separation, and a player with very good leaping ability. He’s capable of helping the Knights place a boundary wide receiver on the field that teams must contend with because he can score in different ways. There’s another player that’s capable of scoring, and he’s returning for his third season in a Knights’ uniform.
Miami (Fla.) Carol City is no stranger to producing speed, and Amari Johnson brings that to the field for the Knights as he enters his third year for UCF. He’s not the biggest player at 5’10”, 175-pounds, but he’s capable of scoring if a defense is not careful. Johnson is yet another player that UCF Head Coach Gus Malzahn can utilize within his power-spread offense to catch passes, run reverses, and just be an overall pest to a defense.
That pestiness stems from quickness and speed being placed into an offensive scheme that really does fit Johnson well. Coach Malzahn’s offensive game plans will find a way to place the football in the hands of playmakers like Johnson and allow them to create thereafter. There’s also a transfer from Notre Dame that should help the Knights immediately.
With the arrival of Jordan Johnson, the Knights will get a little bit of everything. He’s extremely smooth during his routes which will help him to get open, he’s twitchy after the catch, and he’s fast enough to get over the top of the defense.
All three of those traits allowed Johnson to be one of the nation’s most coveted 2020 recruits before enrolling at Notre Dame. Johnson is a prime candidate to start for the Knights, but like with the running back depth chart, he will need to know the offense and be a valuable practice player to earn his playing time. The aforementioned statement should be applied to all the new UCF wide receivers.
There are more names from the transfer portal at wide receiver, such as transfers like Nate Craig-Myers and Brandon Johnson, both of which possess the size and athleticism to make major contributions. Will one or both of them hit the ground running and impact the depth chart? Which role(s) and wide receiver position(s) will one or both of Craig-Myers and Johnson play?
There’s also Kaedin Robinson transferring in from ASA Junior College in New York. He’s another player not that many people really know much about because junior college coverage is quite frankly limited at best. His 6’2, 195-pound frame is a possible answer at boundary wide receiver much like Griffin or the other Johnson coming to UCF this year, Jordan Johnson. As one can see, the wide receiver depth chart is complex. It’s still not the end of the new names either.
Underclassmen to Watch: Incoming freshman wide receiver Titus Mokiao-Atimalala was one of the best two-way recruits in the country for the class of 2021. Some programs liked him more on defense, while other programs saw him as a fit on offense.
When watching his film, Mokiao-Atimalala showed speed and quickness that any college football coach would desire, and he also presented a physical presence as a safety to be a hitter. Combining those traits could help him make an impact for the Knights this fall.
There are several players that could break through and be true stalwarts for the Knights. It’s hard to project the exact player(s) that will immediately contribute, but it’s fun to speculate and watch films of players from prior seasons. One thing for sure, the Knights possess a plethora of skill position talent and the depth chart will take its own course during fall camp.
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