The Rumors and Reality of Kadarius Toney's Return

Kadarius Toney during the Florida-Georgia 2019 game—Photo Credit: Alex Shepherd

Rumors of Kadarius Toney’s grand return were greatly exaggerated. The junior receiver was injured during Florida’s week two win against UT Martin with a shoulder issue and for weeks had bided his time, rehabbing and counting the minutes until he could return to the field.

Each home game, he would slip to the front of fans at Gator Walk and make sure he greeted each of his teammates as they exited the bus. He would take the field with fellow injured teammate, quarterback Feleipe Franks, and keep his friends encouraged while they warmed up before kickoff. Some games, he and Franks would stay on the sidelines and walk through plays with their unit after drives.

Toney is a loud player but a quiet guy, so he hasn’t been all over social media, pumping up fans to miss him. He’s stayed behind the scenes, preparing for the day he would be able to take the field again. It came this past Saturday against Georgia. It was one touch, a carry that went for no gain. And of course, within no time, the questions and accusations began.

Why didn’t Toney play more? We thought he was fully recovered and ready to go? Is there something else going on that’s keeping him off the field? We could have won if Toney had gotten the ball more. Why didn’t he come back three weeks ago even?

One and on it went. Granted, this reporter as well was a little surprised Toney didn’t receive at least more than one touch. Given some of Georgia’s areas of weakness on defense, I did expect to see him used on slants. Tight end Kyle Pitts and receiver Freddie Swain were used in this capacity last Saturday. I just expected Toney to get some of that work as well. But here’s what must be kept in mind.

Toney is returning from an eight week recovery. He’s healthy again, yes; coaches wouldn’t have played him if not. But it’s hard to take someone who hasn’t played for eight weeks and immediately throw them back into the game plan at the same capacity they have been. It risk messing with established chemistry and re-injuring the player.

For what it’s worth, teammates maintained that Toney returning only helped chemistry and elevate their unit. We saw that the first game so that rings true. But this is also a different team than the one Toney last played with at the beginning of the season. It will take a little bit of time to get that wheel rolling again.

Even if Toney had been on the field for the past eight weeks, it’s not likely he would’ve gotten 10 touches or targets or anything of the sort against Georgia. The Gators spread the ball around to multiple receivers and rarely do any reach double digits in a game. For that matter, few even receiver double digit targets in one game. Only Freddie Swain saw 10 targets against the Bulldogs, catching eight. Lamical Perine led rushers with seven.

Those minimal statistics tell the other part of the story. As mentioned, Toney likely wouldn’t have seen tons of touches even as a big part of the game plan. The caveat of him coming off an injury means those numbers go down even less while he’s reacclimated. And those numbers are always a big ambiguous anyways. As head coach Dan Mullen explains, the amount of plays—and therefore plays for specific players—that you prepare for, pales in comparison typically to what’s run.

"Well, (Toney's return) is great. We just didn't run many plays. And my plan for him ... the game doesn't play out the way you expect it to sometimes. We carry, many weeks, we have 167 play calls going into a game.”

For comparison, the Gators ran 52 offensive plays against Georgia.

“Let's say we got 130 plays into the game. We ran 52,” continues Mullen.

"That means there are 80 things we wanted to do that we didn't get to do during the course of the game, offensively. But you have that many because you don't always know how the play is going to play out and what's going to dictate, what's going to happen out there on the field.

“I mean, you can go all the way back…I want to say, like, the all-time record—and don’t, I can be slightly off on this—but my guess, I bet the all-time record, the [2008] Oklahoma national championship game and everything, I think at one point it was 225 plays going into the course of that game or something like that, that you had going into a game. Offensively, we have 225 play calls.

“We're never going to run 225 in a game, but you have that because you don't know how it's going to play out. I mean obviously, we try to, I would say a good number for us, we try to limit ourselves to is, be under 90.

“So if I run the same play twice, like if we ran 72 plays in a game and I ran a few of the same plays twice, we're not hitting the 90, but you have it because you don't know how the game is going to play out.”

Just like coaches are never 100% sure how a game is going to play out—because if they did what would be the point in playing—we also can’t be 100% sure how Kadarius Toney will fit into that plan. He brings a skill set that his teammates bragged on all last week, excitement evident when they spoke of him being back on the practice field and showing off his legendary elusiveness. But just as there’s an art to calling plays, there’s an art to implementing Kadarius Toney and his unique talent back into those plays.

Just be patient. The rumors of Kadarius Toney’s return may have been greatly exaggerated…to this point…but there’s more to come.

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