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USF spring preview: Bulls must sort out congested backfield

By Joey Knight | USF and Colleges Reporter
Published: March 3, 2018
CHARLIE KAIJO | TimesUSF running back Elijah Mack (31) tries to juke past defensive back Devon Jones-Stewart (29) and defensive end Josh Black (55) during last year's spring game at Corbett Stadium.

All week, we've been examining the most interesting position battles entering USF's spring practice, which begins Monday.

Today: running back

2017 starters: D'Ernest Johnson/Darius Tice
These veterans took turns executing the halfback dive last season, combining for 1,739 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns. Johnson, a formidable receiver out of the backfield in a previous life, was under-utilized in that area and finished with only 11 catches (17 shy of his 2016 total). Johnson, who also returned kicks, played in the East-West Shrine Game and probably has the better chance at getting in an NFL camp (albeit as a free agent).

2018 starter(s): The Bulls begin spring drills with an intriguing backfield logjam, but we expect University of Florida transfer Jordan Cronkrite — once a four-star prospect from Miami — to emerge as the bellcow back. Cronkrite, who sat out last season, totaled 302 rushing yards and 26 catches in two seasons at UF, where the tailback depth chart became congested. By many accounts, he shined as a practice player last fall and possesses the sturdy build (5-foot-11, 205 pounds) to handle a heavy workload. Still, expect similarly-built junior Trevon Sands (26 carries, 111 yards last season) to push Cronkrite. Third-year sophomore Elijah Mack had some solid moments in the '17 spring and preseason and could excel with the right demeanor. Former Hillsborough High standout Duran Bell, arguably the fastest tailback in the room, could provide a sleek change of pace. Bell was sparkling last preseason before going down with a knee injury. As sleeper candidates go, Chiefland's Brian Norris possesses the size (6-2, 225) to flourish in coordinator Sterlin Gilbert's veer-and-shoot, and is eligible for spring drills as an early enrollee.

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