Spring Preview: The Backs

The Florida backfield will get a total makeover in 2012 and it starts this spring. We have already talked about the quarterback position and now we move on to the running backs. The position was the most utilized in 2011 and the two guys that did the bulk of carrying the ball have moved on. The spotlight will likely be shared among more this year and the competition starts this spring.

Florida running back coach Brian White has his hands full in 2012 trying to get a pretty inexperienced group to perform at a high level. He will have a couple of add-ons inviolved that could help, but there are a lot of questions moving forward.

With Chris Rainey (5-9, 180) and Jeff Demps (5-7, 190) departing after graduation and strong senior campaigns that produced a combined 1,430 rushing yards with eight touchdowns and 553 receiving yards with two touchdowns, the guys this spring are going to have to prove themselves and get ready to produce in the fall.

It all starts with senior-to-be Mike Gillislee (SR, 5-11, 200). Gillislee comes into the season as the top returning rusher with 920 yards in his three years and just 80yards from hitting that 1,000 yard mark for the career. If things are going to go well on offense for Florida, they may want to see that milestone hit just after half time of the season opener against Bowling Green.

Gillislee has the tools

There is no more excuse about using the guys that know the system better, Gillislee is the most experienced guy and actually has all the physical tools to be the elite ball carrier anyone needs. He has had his issues with picking up blocking schemes in the past and that has kept him off the field. Hopefully, as a guy that will get a ton more reps on the field, this will lead to a better understanding moving forward. H has rarely been used as a receiver out of the backfield with only seven receptions in his three years.

The receiver tag should be gone to start the spring to a new comer to the running back position. Omarius Hines (SR, 6-2, 220) is expected to start his senior season at the position moving over from receiver. We have seen Hines carry and get the ball from the backfield including on reverses, sweeps, and shovel passes so there is a history there. His size is something that must intrigue the coaching staff and he seems to run with power and aggressiveness when given the chance.

Hines brings size to the position.

It is a chance, but something that staff must believe is worth it, even with the low numbers at the receiver position. Hines seems to be another under-utilized player on the roster since his arrival three years ago and this may be a breath of fresh air for him.

Mack Brown (SO, 5-11, 208) May be the most asked about player on the roster that never sees the field. Billed as the only #1 running back on the recruiting board that Urban Meyer ever signed at Florida, Mack still couldn't see the field with Meyer at the helm. Even with injury issues and a lot of other things going on with the other backs on campus, Brown saw little to no time on the field in his first two years on campus earning a red-shirt in year one.

Brown also runs with power and is maybe the hardest runner between the tackles. The knock, just like Gillislee, has been the adaptation to blocking schemes and pass routes in the passing game. His reps should jump in practice as well helping out with those issues, but going into his third year he has to step it up and show he can handle those things.

Another new addition to the running back group is super athletic and former linebacker Chris Johnson (SO, 5-9, 205). Out of high school, Johnson was always that guy that wore out the combines because he was just so much more overall athletic than anyone. This actually makes sense that he would be a guy that you could move around positions and see what he could do.

There is no history at this level of running the ball with Johnson, but he is compact, strong, and fast making him a physical fit for the position. The style of offense they settle on may very well end up settling how much Trey Burton (JR, 6-3, 230) sees the field in 2012. Caught in a style that wasn't suited for him last year, Burton is more of a H-back, hybrid receiver/ runner / tight end with his size and ability. That may very well be something that new offensive coordinator Brent Pease can utilize a great deal in his offense, and it is something to watch.

Burton's key is his versatility.

We all know of Burton's ability to run the ball and he has amassed 474 yards and 14 touchdowns, in his first two years on campus. He also brings the pass catching intangible that allows him to be someone that Pease can utilize in all aspects of the offense. Burton has 51 catches in two years with 359 yards and two touchdowns.

It is Burton's intelligence and willing to do whatever it takes that has gotten him on the field so much and now he may very well have a coach that can use his abilities and maximize them inside the game plan.

At fullback it is still the lone horse and although we have talked about what style of defense they will settle on, using a fullback and a power running game is something they absolutely want to do more than anything.

Joyer had a great freshman year.

They don't get much better than Hunter Joyer (SO, 5-10, 242), who played about as well as anyone could have expected a year ago. Joyer appeared in all 13 games as a true freshman and finished with 82 yards with 4.2 yards per carry average and two touchdowns. He blocked very well and grew into that duty as the season progressed, getting better with his assignments.

Joyer actually was a nice weapon for Florida rattling off some big runs in timely situations and surprising defenses and fans alike with his ability for the quick hitting big gain.

The Gators will add Matt Jones (6-3, 230) of Seffner Armwood to the roster in June. The massive running back will be asked to come in immediately and contribute on some level, but that will all be determined on how well the above list of backs carry the load this spring.

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