Take the ball and run

Florida is now handing the ball to Omarius Hines, and he's running with it

Updated: March 29, 2012, 12:25 PM ET
By Michael DiRocco | GatorNation

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Omarius Hines didn't make much of an impact at receiver.

Nor at tight end.

Maybe being a running back finally will work out for the 6-foot-2, 223-pound redshirt senior.

Florida moved Hines there this spring, partly to improve the depth at the spot but also to give Hines a chance to be more involved in the offense than he has been so far in his career. Hines also still will play some tight end and in the slot, but so far he has gotten favorable reviews at running back.

[+] EnlargeOmarius Hines
Grant Halverson/Getty ImagesDespite his size and skill, Omarius Hines hasn't contributed much offense at wide receiver and tight end.
"He's done some nice things," UF coach Will Muschamp said. "He hasn't carried the ball as much. It's hard to judge in helmets obviously, but he did some nice things carrying the ball. He has some instincts with the ball in his hands, and I'm interested in seeing it progress."

Hines had dazzled Urban Meyer's coaching staff with his size and speed, but was never able to make much of an impact on the field. After redshirting in 2008, he caught 34 passes for 453 yards and two touchdowns in 2009 and 2010. His biggest contribution, however, was a 36-yard run on a fake punt against Tennessee in 2010.

Hines was even less of a factor last season. He touched the ball only eight times -- seven catches for 106 yards and one run for 12 yards -- in 12 games, despite playing in an offense that was desperate for any kind of playmaker to emerge.

Like Meyer, Muschamp said Hines has too much ability to not be heavily involved. The move to running back is supposed to solve that, although Muschamp did say there are plans to use Hines in pretty much the same way as Trey Burton -- minus the wildcat quarterback stuff -- to take advantage of his pass-catching ability.

"He's got good hands," Muschamp said. "I think more than anything it was adding a bigger body in the backfield and a guy that's played, but we need to find a role for him and use some different ways to get him the football. We just look at the offseason program and look at our team and see who can be the playmakers, and he's certainly, from an explosive athlete standpoint, a guy that stands out."

Hines has averaged 12.6 yards per carry and run for two touchdowns on 13 carries in his career, but those carries came on a fake punt and end arounds. He hasn't lined up in the backfield in an I-formation and taken a handoff, looked for a hole and made a linebacker miss. But he has looked like a natural through the first two weeks of spring, offensive coordinator Brent Pease said.

"He's such a gifted athlete," Pease said. "It's kind of learning different spots of where's he's going to be. He's natural. He's still got to learn some things with it. He obviously gives us good depth. He's got a lot of ability. Him and some other kids, you've kind of seen their confidence grow every day."

Hines' obvious role would be as a short-yardage runner. He's listed as an inch smaller and four pounds lighter than Burton, but third- or fourth-and-short is not Burton's forte. He lost 14 yards on fourth-and-1 from the Florida State 15-yard line in the Gators' 21-7 loss to the Seminoles last season. Hines could flourish there, defensive tackle Omar Hunter said.

"He's big, really big," Hunter said. "He's hard to tackle. He runs really hard."

The Gators are even more desperate for playmakers this season because of the inexperience at quarterback and the uncertainty over whether Mike Gillislee and/or Mack Brown will be able to handle being the Gators' No. 1 running back. Hines is getting his last shot.

"We need to get more out of him as a football player, and that's including on special teams and everything we do within the organization," Muschamp said.

Mike DiRocco | email

ESPN Jacksonville Jaguars reporter