Backs against the wall

Florida will likely need to rely on its depth at running back

Updated: August 13, 2012, 2:01 PM ET
By Michael DiRocco | GatorNation

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Mike Gillislee will be Florida's feature back when the Gators open the season against Bowling Green on Sept. 1.

UF coach Will Muschamp is confident that Gillislee, who has rushed for 920 yards in his career, can handle the job and has the talent to come close to his goal of 1,500 yards and 24 touchdowns.

If Gillislee falters for any reason, though, Muschamp is confident that the group behind him would be able to fill in with no problem, even if it's an inexperienced group aside from Trey Burton.

Mike Gillislee
AP Photo/Gray Quetti/CSMFlorida's primary ball-carrier in 2012 is expected to be senior Mike Gillislee.
"I'm very pleased with that position and how we've continued to progress," Muschamp said.

Gillislee, a 5-foot-11, 201-pound senior, has distanced himself from the others thanks to a great spring in which he proved he could stay healthy and was able to handle pass protection. Plus, he's shown the ability to be factor as a receiver out of the backfield, which was a bit of a surprise.

"Mike Gillislee has looked really good," Muschamp said. "He's a guy that did a nice job for us. I think we're really excited to see him play. I'm real pleased with Mike and what he is doing protection-wise (and) catching the ball."

Behind Gillislee are freshman Matt Jones and redshirt sophomore Mack Brown. Jones (6-2, 213) has impressed Muschamp with his physical running style, and Muschamp said Jones has definitely earned some carries.

"I think Matt's going to help us this year," Muschamp said. "How much will depend on how the rest of training camp goes, so let's don't jump off the ledge here, but he's a mature young man.

"I'm interested to get out on the field and see what he knows. He runs behind his pads. He's a one-cut runner. He runs north and south and doesn't take many direct hits. He's got really good hands. He's good in protection."

Brown (5-11, 210) has carried the ball only 15 times for 65 yards but Muschamp said he and converted safety Chris Johnson, who suffered a sprained neck early last week, have both done some nice things so far in camp.

I think Matt's going to help us this year. ... I'm interested to get out on the field and see what he knows. He runs behind his pads. He's a one-cut runner. He runs north and south and doesn't take many direct hits. He's got really good hands. He's good in protection.

-- Florida coach Will Muschamp on true freshman RB Matt Jones

"All of those guys are rotating in and playing," Muschamp said.

Burton, Hunter Joyer and Omarius Hines give the Gators other options in their one-back set. Burton has had plenty of experience in the backfield -- he's rushed for 474 yards and 14 touchdowns in his two previous seasons mainly as a wildcat quarterback -- but the most intriguing player in that set is Joyer.

The 5-10, 244-pound sophomore fullback ran for 82 yards and two touchdowns last season as a short-yardage back, but his main role was as a blocker. That will still be his main responsibility, but he'll also be more involved in the passing game and get some additional carries.

Joyer was used that way in high school and admitted that he missed it.

"It's a huge role and I'd love to have it," Joyer said. "I'd love to be that person. It's something I'd really enjoy.

"I think everybody would kind of [miss carrying the ball]. Everyone likes to be able to touch the ball and do certain things, but I'm fine with whatever the coaches ask me to do."

Hines (6-2, 223) is spending some time at tight end as well to help overcome the transfer of A.C. Leonard.

"There's plenty of us that can step in," Joyer said. "I think all of us will get plenty of playing time and really contribute to the offense and success of the team."

Mike DiRocco | email

ESPN Jacksonville Jaguars reporter