Saturday, April 6, 2013
Taking it easy
By Michael DiRocco GatorNation
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The offensive star of Florida's final spring practice was freshman running back Kelvin Taylor.
The son of former Gators standout running back Fred Taylor ran for 59 yards and a touchdown during UF's six 11-on-11 scrimmage periods at Florida Field on Saturday afternoon. The 5-foot-11, 215-pound Taylor carried the ball 11 times.
True freshman Kelvin Taylor ran for a team-leading 59 yards and a touchdown on Saturday.
But it was Matt Jones' one carry that actually means much more for Florida's offense.
Jones had such an impressive spring and put so much space between himself and the rest of the backs that UF coach Will Muschamp decided to sit him for much of the scrimmage work. No sense risking injury to the person who will be the focal point of the offense in 2013.
"Matt didn't do a whole lot today, and that was by design," Muschamp said. "We wanted to get Kelvin and Mack [Brown] and Mark [Herndon] some touches. Matt's had a really outstanding spring. We have a good comfort level of where he is as a player."
Jones clearly is the key to the Gators' offense. The 6-foot-2, 226-pound sophomore earned that job this spring after showing that he can not only handle a heavy workload of carries, but be reliable in pass protection as well. The feeling around the program is that Jones will more than be able to replace Mike Gillislee, who ran for 1,152 yards last season -- the first UF runner to surpass 1,000 yards since 2004.
"He [Jones] is going to be huge for us," quarterback Jeff Driskel said. "He's a guy who can run hard and break away when he's in the open field. He's also great at pass protecting. He knows his assignments well. And he's good when he gets in space running check-down routes or option routes. He's definitely a versatile guy that we're going to have to rely a lot on this year like we did with Mike last year."
Especially because the passing offense looks like it's going to struggle again in 2013. Driskel completed 9 of 20 passes for 70 yards in the scrimmage situations. The longest pass was a 21-yard catch-and-run by tight end Trey Burton, but five of Driskel's nine completions went for four or fewer yards.
The Gators were banged up at receiver -- Latroy Pittman was held out as a precaution after landing hard after a catch in Friday's practice, Quinton Dunbar (shoulder) and Solomon Patton (arm) were wearing red non-contact jerseys and Demarcus Robinson was hobbled by an ankle injury -- but there were no completions in which the ball was thrown beyond 10 yards. The bulk of Burton's yardage came after a short pass.
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So much like 2012 was on Gillislee, the upcoming season is going to be on Jones. He says he's ready to carry the ball 250 times -- or more -- after rushing for 275 yards and three touchdowns last season. He ran for the bulk of that total (183 yards) in the final five games, which backs up his claim that he didn't feel comfortable until the second half of the season.
He feels even more comfortable now.
"I feel like I know everything," Jones said. "I think I understand the concepts of the game and everything.
"This spring I came out working on my quickness and power and definitely [worked hard] in the weight room. This spring is going well for me. I'm picking up on new plays and new concepts of the game and learning the game better."
Though Jones has the starting job wrapped up, he said he's planning to approach the summer as if he doesn't.
"It was a tough job at first competing with those guys," Jones said. "Like I said, all the running backs are great running backs; all of them have talent. It was a great competition. I still can't fall off right now.
"& I can't think like that [that the job is his] because of guys trying to surpass me a little bit. I had to get back on my job. Coach Muschamp got on me about that and definitely had to buckle down and keep humble."