Thursday, March 14, 2013
Off and running
By Michael DiRocco GatorNation
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida coach Will Muschamp is concerned about several areas of his team this spring.
He's keeping a close eye on what happens at receiver, tight end, defensive tackle, linebacker and at safety.
He's not, however, worried about running back -- even though the Gators lost 1,000-yard rusher Mike Gillislee and the three backs on the roster have a combined total of career carries that's little more than a third of Gillislee's total in 2012.
As a true freshman, running back Matt Jones came on late in the season and helped Florida take down FSU and its top-rated run defense in the regular-season finale in Tallahassee.
Muschamp believes sophomore Matt Jones, redshirt junior Mack Brown and freshman early enrollee Kelvin Taylor are capable of replacing Gillislee this spring.
"Matt Jones has had a really good offseason, really has gained good weight and ran well through the offseason program," Muschamp said. "Mack Brown continues to look good, and Kelvin Taylor's been a guy we're real excited to have on campus. He's done a nice job transitioning."
The 6-foot-2, 226-pound Jones, Gillislee's top backup last season, really came on toward the end of 2012 after a chat in which Muschamp told him to stop dancing around in the backfield and hit the hole. Jones gained 183 of his 275 yards in the final six games, including 81 yards against Florida State and the nation's No. 1 rush defense.
Jones put on 13 pounds in the offseason and enters the spring as the starter.
Brown (5-11, 213) is UF's second option this spring, which is a bit of a surprise considering how little he has done in his career (40 carries for 167 yards). Brown has not met the expectations that came with being a four-star prospect and ESPN's No. 4 running back when he signed in 2010 out of Lithonia (Ga.) Martin Luther King.
He earned a redshirt as a freshman after appearing in only two games (three carries) and carried the ball 12 times in 2011 as the Gators' No. 4 running back behind Jeff Demps, Chris Rainey and Gillislee. Brown had 25 carries for 102 yards last season, but only carried the ball twice through the last six games.
Muschamp said Brown has had a good offseason, and he needed to do that to hold off the talented Taylor, who is the son of former UF standout running back Fred Taylor. The younger Taylor (5-11, 215) ran for 12,121 yards and 191 touchdowns in his career at Belle Glade (Fla.) Glades Day, was a five-star recruit and ESPN's No. 1 running back and No. 8 overall player.
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"We've got three guys that I'm excited about seeing," Muschamp said. "It's Mack's turn to step up and be a guy that can do all the things we need to do from the position. But Matt Jones again, really challenged him in the offseason to be a guy that needs to be able to carry the ball 25 times in a game and understand that role and embrace that role. And again, Kelvin's [the equivalent of] a high school senior right now, and I've been very proud in what he's done. He's come out here and worked."
If Jones remains the starter -- and it's likely he will -- his workload will be in the 20-25 carry range in the fall, but Brown, Taylor and July enrollee Adam Lane will get work as well.
"I want one guy to be able to carry the load," offensive coordinator Brent Pease said. "That's tough to do with the number of plays you want to run. Other guys are going to get reps and be able to be productive. I mean, Mike was a 1,000-yard rusher but you saw Matt come on and Mack do a few things here and there."