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2018 USF Football Spring Practice Preview: Running Back

Who gets the #HBDives in 2018?

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NCAA Football: Temple at South Florida Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

If you missed the beginning of our spring practice preview series check them out here:

Spring practice begins next week so we will breakdown each position group as we gear up for football season. Note: We will not guess on what impact freshmen who are not on campus yet will have on the team. Except for quarterback because #BattleHive.

Running Back:

Key Losses: D’Ernest Johnson (193 carries, 796 yards, 4.1 ypc, seven TD. 11 catches, 153 yards, two TD); Darius Tice (178 carries, 943 yards, 5.3 ypc, 11 TD. Two catches, 13 yards)

Returners: Jordan Cronkrite (DNP-transfer); Trevon Sands (26 carries, 111 yards, 4.3 ypc); Elijah Mack (Three carries, 10 yards); Davion Sutton (10 carries, 47 yards); Duran Bell (DNP-Redshirt/injury)

This group relied heavily on Johnson and Tice, rightfully so, in 2017 and without them there’s a huge question mark as to who will take over the primary recipient of offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert’s secret weapon. What’s that? You know it’s #HBDive? Oh, well then, nvm.

Smart money is on Florida transfer Jordan Cronkrite taking over as the starting running back. Head coach Charlie Strong brought the former Gator in knowing that he had a huge hole to fill once Tice and Johnson left.

From what we saw in practice throughout the fall, Cronkrite is the real deal. He ran with purpose and always fell forward, a must in a RB1.

The Miami native totaled 302 rushing yards on 75 carries in his two years at UF. He also caught 26 passes for 209 yards, including a 41-yard TD against South Carolina in 2015. He’s a skilled runner and pass catcher who will almost assuredly be misused by Gilbert.

Sands is a tremendous gunner on special teams, but at some point last season, the coaching staff seemed to lose faith in him as a runner.

Of his 26 carries—most of any returning back— just four of them came in the last seven games of the season. And three of those came in the same game versus Cincinnati. The other went for minus-two yards.

Mack is the forgotten man in the group as he appeared in just six games in 2017 after redshirting in 2016.

Sands was picked over him when Tice went down two years ago and has not done enough offensively to think he’ll be more than a bit player. With most of his playing time being on special teams, his opportunity for a major role may have passed him by.

Pure speculation: He could be a spring transfer candidate.

Hillsborough High School product Duran Bell was having a fantastic fall camp last year before a knee injury sidelined him for the entirely of the 2017 season. He will bring something that USF backs were missing last year: speed.

Bell finished second in the 400M, third in the 200 and seventh in the 100 at the Class 3A state meet his senior year. He doesn’t have Marlon Mack speed, but he’s got wheels.

“He’s a track guy, so he has that extra burst, that extra gear, and we’re gonna have some things for him, running backs coach Shaun King said during fall practice last year. “We’ve got him back there trying to be involved on special teams because I think that’s the key ingredient.”

Despite his slight frame, 5’10”, 170 lbs, Bell is my pick to be the number two back behind Cronkrite.

Davion Sutton had ten carries, all in the San Jose State game, and he figures to get time on special teams.

Our recruiting guy Nick Simon thinks early enrollee Brian Norris, a 6’2”, 220 pound back from Chiefland, FL, will have a significant impact in the backfield. He fits the Veer-And-Shoot style Gilbert wants to use, which is why Tice, although similar in stature as Johnson, had much more success as a runner.

Nick: "Listed at 6'2", 220 pounds, Norris comes in already the biggest running back of the group and will only get bigger and stronger within a college weight program. Because of this and the type of offense that they run, it's easy to see why Strong/Gilbert sees the potential for him to be their next D'Onta Foreman.

With him already being on campus and about to participate in spring practice, I can totally see him working himself into the RB2 role right behind Cronkrite. But that's just me guessing because he could be redshirted for all we know."

Starter: Cronkrite

RB2: Bell

RB3: Sands/Norris/Mack

Whoever doesn’t win the third spot in the rotation will have to contribute on special teams.

Tell me why I’m right or wrong on Twitter, the comments below, and on Facebook.