- Mike DiRocco, ESPN Staff Writer
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- A nagging ankle injury and trouble with pass protection are things that kept running back Mike Gillislee from being a bigger part of Florida's offense in the past several seasons.
Both are better now, he said, and aren't going to hold him back from being the Gators' feature back in 2012.
"This is my last chance," the 5-foot-11, 203-pound senior said. "[It's] the opportunity I’ve been waiting on to take advantage, being No. 1 on the depth chart so far, just getting better every day."
Gillislee previously was lower on the depth chart because he was playing behind Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey. They were speed backs and the Gators used a perimeter running game. Gillislee is a power back, and he did produce when he did get on the field -- 920 yards on 145 carries (6.3 per carry) -- but it came mostly in mop-up action or an occasional drive in the middle of a game.
Despite it costing him just three games through three seasons, a nagging right ankle injury kept him from being 100 percent. More of a detriment, however, were his struggles in pass protection. He had no trouble with his pre-snap reads. What happened after the snap was the problem.
Picking up an assigned blitz was easy. What confused Gillislee was scanning for an unblocked rusher, figuring out which player to block if an offensive lineman picked up his man, and knowing when it was OK to release into his pass route.
"It’s hard," he said. "You’ve got to know who is coming and you’ve got a route at the same time. So, that’s the whole hard thing about pass protection.
"I had a little bit of trouble, but I’m good at it now. I feel comfortable now because I’m getting a lot more reps than I usually get [in practice]."
Those issues limited Gillislee to 58 carries in 2010 and 56 last season. The goal for 2012 is 200 carries and 1,000 yards, which is certainly attainable because he's a good fit for UF coach Will Muschamp's power run game. If Gillislee stays healthy and truly has figured out his pass protection issues, he'll get the consistent work that would enable him to reach those numbers.
"In the past I never knew when I was going to get it [the ball] again," Gillislee said. "I just go as hard as I can. That's a big reason I'll break out."